6

Generally, when an adjective is derived from a proper noun, the adjective also has a capital initial, hence Googleable, Mancunian, British, and Shavian. (In contrast, verbs are not given capitals, hence to google and to hoover.) For some reason, though, biblical is an exception. The word Bible itself can be used as a normal noun (the fisherman’s bible, or a bible for cooks), but biblical clearly refers to the proper-noun usage of Bible, and yet it is not given a capital initial. Why is this?

(Actually, a minority of dictionaries do give a capital initial, but that usage is rare in my experience.)

  • 1
    That might be part of the answer. – TRiG Oct 26 '13 at 20:48
  • Okay, it looks like comments are leaning toward an answer here. Anyone feel like writing it up as one? – TRiG Nov 23 '13 at 14:19
  • 1
    Why is the Bible the only book in hotel nightstand drawers? I suspect a link. – sarah Nov 25 '13 at 8:56
  • I don't like that term "proper adjective". How about "capitalized adjective"? The term "proper noun" has some grammatical significance -- ordinarily, proper nouns have unique reference (and they would even if they weren't capitalized). But adjectives and verbs don't refer, so they don't have a right to the qualifier "proper". Spelling is not grammar. – Greg Lee Mar 31 '15 at 19:28
  • Congress-congressional, Bible-biblical. – user121800 May 15 '15 at 20:04
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It appears that the central assumption in your question is questionable. Snailboat, FumbleFingers, and Sven Yargs have given examples to the contrary.

Wikipedia asserts:

An adjective can lose its capitalization when it takes on new meanings, such as chauvinistic. In addition, over time, an adjective can lose its capitalization by convention, generally when the word has overshadowed its original reference, such as gargantuan, quixotic, titanic, or roman in the term roman numerals.

FumbleFingers notes that at least one of these is true of biblical.

As to why biblical has become one of the proper adjectives that has lost its capitalization, the final, parenthetical, comment in your question is a large part of the answer--it is acceptable because it is commonly done. (My prescriptivist tendencies balk at this common fact without effect.) Perhaps the prevalence of the word and the book itself (which my hotel room nightstand comment referenced) has facilitated the "decapitalization" process.

5

The Holy Bible - a.k.a. "the Bible" - is the proper title of a specific book; it has also gained a generic use meaning any comprehensive owner's manual or handbook, in which case it is not to be capitalized, e.g. "the investor's bible." The adjective for references to the Bible had always been capitalized - Biblical - conforming to standard rules of English (Italian cooking, Shakespearean tragedy, Homeric effort, et al) whereas when using it as an adjective referring to a handbook of comprehensive knowledge it would and should not be capitalized: biblical. As this generic application became commonplace, Biblical lost its capital B out of common usage; it became "commonly common." Language is a fluid thing, rules change as they gain acceptance. An example would be dangling participles. It is now fairly awkward to say, "Into which room are you going?" instead of "Which room are you going into?" In the same way, differentiation between Biblical and biblical has been lost, now depending on the reader's interpretation and context for clarity. It is more accurate and still acceptable to capitalize it, but no longer customary or required.

2

Words that are commonly used and deeply entrenched in the culture tend to lose their proper adjective status. As in the case of french fries, roman numerals, venetian blinds, etc.

0

FumbleFingers is correct. As you duly noted there are several variations on "The Bible" proper (i.e. the fisherman's bible etc.) Therefore, you will only find capitalization present when referencing the proper noun vs. when the word bible is used solely as a noun not referencing it in its contextual place as The Holy Bible.

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    I don't think that's correct. One would expect biblical exegesis to be about the capital-B Bible, yet it overwhelmingly uses as small b. – TRiG Oct 30 '13 at 10:17
  • You could do better than I, but since you haven't submitted an answer, I'm going to give it a shot, @TRiG – sarah Nov 25 '13 at 15:56
0

An adjective is not a proper noun. Proper nouns are capitalized, while verbs and adjectives and other parts of speech are not. In religious circles, when referring to the Bible, it is a proper noun. Same for Scripture. If you are looking up biblical verses or scriptural texts and references, etc.the adjectives are not capitalized.

protected by Mitch Nov 20 '16 at 19:13

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