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Capitalisation of nouns in English in the 17th and 18th centuries

I was looking up an article of the constitution of the United States of America, and I noticed in the exact transcription that almost every noun is capitalized.

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

The emphasis is mine, but the capitalization is present in the original text.

Many of these nouns seem like they would not be capitalized today, especially, Thing. Did English once have capitalization rules like German has today, or is this 18th-century legalese?

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marked as duplicate by MετάEd, tchrist, Mark Beadles, Zairja, StoneyB Oct 27 '12 at 14:40

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Because English is a Germanic language, it used to have the same or similar capitalization rules, but over the past couple of hundred years, things have changed. You can find the capitalization rules in a search window with "English capitalization rules" –  user21497 Oct 27 '12 at 3:02
Note that in contracts generally, capital letters are more commonly used than in everyday writing to established "fixed, specifically defined concepts". So it may be a bit unfair to take the Constitution as (or expect it to be) an example of "general" writing of the time. –  Neil Coffey Oct 27 '12 at 3:45
The example is not related to the cited 'possible duplicate'. OP's presumption about nouns is misplaced and irrelevant. Not a duplicate. @NeilCoffey Agreed. However, I noticed your comment too late, I posted an answer that says (nearly) the same thing. –  Kris Oct 27 '12 at 4:38
Capitalization in modern British English seems to be totally arbitrary. –  Barrie England Oct 27 '12 at 6:05

1 Answer 1

It doesn't appear to me like capitalization of nouns at all.

Notice that gold and silver are not capitalized here, for instance.

Apparently, only the terms defined elsewhere have been capitalized. The purpose, seemingly, being to say that "when I say 'Bills', I mean bills as defined elsewhere for the purpose of this document."

This follows the legalese/ bureaucratic convention of defining the terms (a kind of glossary) involved in a document at one place. "In this document, unless otherwise stated or the context so requires, (word) means (definition)."

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"gold and silver Coin" is a noun phrase with two nominal adjectives, "gold" and "silver". They function as adjectives and so are not capitalized even though they are nouns. In German, "The fork is silver" = "Die Gabel ist Silber", but "The color is silver" = "Die farbe ist silber". –  user21497 Oct 27 '12 at 4:43
"Gold- und Silbermünzen" –  Kris Oct 27 '12 at 10:35
They're nouns that mean "gold coins" & "sliver coins". In German they're a single word: that's what German does. In the two sentences I gave. the one about the fork tells you what metal it's made of, & the one about the color tells you what shade it is. "Silber" is a noun & "silber" is an adjective, just as in "Es ist grün [green]", "grün" is an adjective. That's grammar & semantics. In English, however, they're two words: nominal adjective & noun. Aren't you the guy who said that grammar & semantics didn't agree with you? And I agreed that they didn't. Just a week ago it was. –  user21497 Oct 27 '12 at 11:09

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