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I'm aware that the titles of most creative works are given with nouns, etc. capitalised and "closed" words not (e.g. The Chicago Manual of Style) but I seem to see another approach much more in songs and classical music, where everything is capitalised no matter what (e.g. O For The Wings Of A Dove rather than O for the Wings of a Dove).

Are these fully capitalised titles more common in music, and why is this the case?

Edit: Please note that I'm not asking about common rules for Title Case - there are lots of references online for that; it's about why the choice of Capitalisation On Every Word is more common for music.

  • The titles of most works of art, including songs, usually have their most important words capitalized. – John Lawler Nov 24 '13 at 22:20
  • I've checked the string "o for the wings of a dove" in a Google search. The first 16 returns are: "O for the Wings of a Dove": 1, 4, 6, 9, 13; // "O for the wings of a dove": 2, 3, 5, 8, 11, 12; // "O For the Wings of a Dove": 7, 10, 15; // "O For The Wings Of A Dove": 14; "O FOR THE WINGS OF A DOVE": 16. However, most of these are from commercial sources. The first source I'd credit with authority (in my search on the web) agrees with John. (Though of course, he may have written it.) 'O for the Wings of a Dove'. I'd buy the best recording no matter how it's spelt on the label. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 24 '13 at 22:43
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There is no single rule for English title case. Most build on title-casing of individual words, so the rules for that first.

  1. Generally, one capitalises the first letter, and lower-cases the rest.
  2. Traditional lower-case abbreviations are sometimes not capitalised at all (e.g. op. cit. etc.) and sometimes initial-capitalised, but generally not used in titles anyway.
  3. All-cap abbreviations remain in all-caps.
  4. Words which have a partial capitalisation including both initial letter and another when normally written retain it, e.g. McLeod, O'Reilly, and some trade names.
  5. Words which have a partial capitalisation not including the initial letter may be written with or without capitalising that initial letter, that is some styles would write d'Este and some D'Este. Typically we do the latter in styles that would capitalise prepositions as described below.

There are other rules in other languages, such as Dutch words beginning with ij capitalising both (e.g. ijsberg becoming IJsberg) and some languages mutate words by prepending letters which are never capitalised. Such foreign rules may or may not be followed with foreign words borrowed into English, though it's generally considered correct to do so, and can even affect meaning if you don't (nAthair in Irish means father while Nathair means snake).

With those rules for title-casing words in place, some common rules for whole titles are:

  1. Upper-case the whole thing.
  2. Title-case everything except articles, prepositions, and conjunctions unless they are adjectival or adverb use of prepositions.
  3. As above, but also capitalise prepositions and conjunctions longer than four letters long.
  4. As per 2, but lower-case all prepositions.
  5. As above, but also lower-case other determiners like numbers.
  6. Lower-case the whole thing.
  7. Capitalise all nouns (more common historically than now).
  8. Title-case every word.

And there are yet others found. In addition, one might decide that a word that isn't title-cased is important to the title for some reason, and then title-case it. One might also capitalise after an initial Yes or No or if the title is an apostrophe starting with the word O, one might capitalise after that (so one could have "O For the Wings of a Dove").

One strong advantage of number 8 is that while it is often considered rather uncouth, it is easy to do programmatically. It's often found when some computer code is "fixing" titles from a source of mixed quality. Such computer code need only look for word boundaries, upper case the first letter and leave the rest as is. It gets a bit more complicated if your sources might have some all-capital phrases, but is still much simpler than having computer code determine if a word is a preposition, never mind whether it's being used in an adjectival or adverbal use or not.

So we can expect to see quite a few different variations coming from both human and electronic editors.

  • I see you carefully avoid the intransitive preposition minefield. And multi-word thingies. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 25 '13 at 11:14
  • @EdwinAshworth well, I sail a bit in that direction with the one case of differing rules over prepositions that I do mention. I think that after listing 8 different possibilities, even someone as prone to long answers as I am can consider it adequate to answer the question. Really, a survey of all forms in use would fall into a morass of inconsistency. – Jon Hanna Nov 25 '13 at 11:30
  • The morass of inconsistency we all – I'm not in the mood for know and love today. aka the English language. With these arguable areas, I try to find corroboration for one I'm happy with, and stick with that until I meet a problem with it, or forget the convention and find another. You've no need to defend the best assemblage of advocated styles I've ever seen. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 25 '13 at 15:15
  • @EdwinAshworth the same morass gets worse when someone applies graphical styling for a given case on top of the orthography ("It looks all-lower here visually, but it's 'really' title case"), such as happens on the web with CSS text-transform, and so on. I don't think amazon will ever list my book with the right title. (It being sentence-case on the cover was meant to be a graphical rather than semantic choice). – Jon Hanna Nov 25 '13 at 15:21
  • I'm aware that there are lots of different styles, and recommendations about Title Case, but I'm asking why I seem to see more Capitalisation On Every Word in music as opposed to other areas. A detailed answer for others who need to reference this, though; thanks. – Iain Hallam Nov 25 '13 at 18:40

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