In New York Times (November 1) article titled “A cup of G.I Joe,” Maureen Dowd introduces the following remarks from Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks about Leadership. Dowd suspects if Shultz is partly motivated by a desire to run for president.

“The government does a very good job of sending people to war,” Schultz told me in New York this past week, “and a very poor job of bringing them home.”

“I have an interest in trying to make a difference,” he said. “I don’t know where that’s going to lead.” He believes that “the country is longing for leadership and for truth with a capital T.”

“We’ve lost our collective and individual responsibility, and our conscience, and that has to be addressed. And that is linked to a dysfunctional government and a lack of authentic, truthful leadership.”


What does “truth with a capital T” mean? How different is it from truth with a lowercase t? Is this expression in fashion?

  • 10
    Usually when someone talks about "truth with a capital T" they're about to tell you a lie.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 4 '14 at 1:34
  • Plus one. Interesting.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Nov 4 '14 at 2:55
  • This can be used not just for Evil, but for Good — or at least for Art. See my updated answer.
    – tchrist
    Nov 4 '14 at 5:27
  • 1
    Oddly enough, the quoted sentence cites another entity that often gets the capital treatment: "The government." I doubt that any U.S. reader would have batted an eye if Howard Schultz had said "The government, with a capital G," since considerable heat (and not much light) tends to be generated on the subject of little government and Big Government. A Google search for "capital-G Government" yields "about 6,980 results."
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 4 '14 at 7:45
  • 3
    As the afterthought, I realized this is just an example of a not so unusual idiom, “with a capital X.” I found the following examples of the usage in my word book which I started to compile almost 20 years ago: He is quick with a capital Q. / You guys are idiot with a capital I. / Benevolence with a capital B. Warren Buffett says he always plans to give the bulk of his billions to charity and he says he decided to give $37 billion to the foundation run by Bill and Melinda Gates because they’ll be better giving it away than he would.
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Nov 4 '14 at 21:03

This is a good question. Yes, there is a difference between truth and Truth, between nature and Nature, between fighting for a cause and fighting for the Cause. The proper nouns are definite, a unique instance of that thing admitting no others. It personifies it.

See also the song "Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man:

Trouble. I’m talkin’ ’bout Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool.

By using a capital, it seems more important. It may become an archetype. Or it may be the only one they know. Certainly I as a child did this to special places. It wasn’t just the hill, but the Hill; not just the lake but the Lake; not just the hollow, but the Hollow. There was just one of them for me, and so each of those became for me a proper noun.

Fairy stories often contain such things: the Witch, the Shoemaker, the Woodsman, the Prince, the Castle. This question about J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of capitals from the Fantasy & Science Fiction SE site touches about this. This happens much more in the more fairlytale-like The Hobbit than in the The Lord of the Rings proper, and it far rarer in The Silmarillion or his other serious works where he was more apt to give things like the Sorcerer’s Isle a name in his own invented languages.

Tom Shippey has commented on this practice as being especially noticeable in The Hobbit. It imbues the tale with an easily understood simplicity of language while giving weight to the places named: the Water, the Hill, the Last Homely House, the Mountains, the Wild, the Door, the Lonely Mountain, Lake-town and its Mountain, the King of the Dwarves, the Necromancer. And many, many more.

Used in this way, careful capitalization can create a narrative effect upon the mind of the reader that is desirable in certain contexts. Poets do this when they attribute human qualities to non-human objects or concepts.

We can see this in romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “The Sensitive Plant”. Here are a few examples from the poem:

A Sensitive Plant in a garden grew,
And the young winds fed it with silver dew,
And it opened its fan-like leaves to the light.
And closed them beneath the kisses of Night.

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.


For the Sensitive Plant has no bright flower;
Radiance and odour are not its dower;
It loves, even like Love, its deep heart is full,
It desires what it has not, the Beautiful!

Other examples of this can be found in Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, whose title is a line from Shakespeare’s King Lear. Browning uses not just the titular Dark Tower, but gives voice to Nature herself.

These stylistic choices can gently lift the narrative from that of the merely mundane to some higher plane wherein abide Plato’s abstractions, things that never fade with time but instead remain forever perfect, for the very reason that they exist only in the mind of Man alone and are therefore all the more real for that, being part of Eternity.

Yes, of course I did that on purpose. Cheap, perhaps. But don’t Man and Eternity seem to become something greater that way?

Politicians sometimes make use of the same technique, or have it attributed to them, as perhaps is being done here in the article you mention. However, their reasons for doing so are seldom so noble as those of poet or philosopher.

  • 1
    Is it like God versus god and President versus president? In my case, Wife as against wives
    – Yoichi Oishi
    Nov 4 '14 at 2:54
  • 1
    ... and capitalizing "Wife" is rare, except when using it specifically as a title in place of the individual's name.
    – keshlam
    Nov 4 '14 at 3:55
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    @keshlam “Tell me, Husband, has it always been this way?” One often capitalizes words used in this way. It’s like talking to your mother versus talking to Mother.
    – tchrist
    Nov 4 '14 at 5:20
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    This usage is almost always localized to a person or region, and it refers to the one unique thing that a person or region recognizes with that title. In monotheism, God refers to the single god in which they believe. While God usually refers to the Christian version, there's no reason why there couldn't be another deity named God that exists in some remote part of the world that hasn't been touched by Christianity (or any civilized society, for that matter). The importance is uniqueness and significance to the person. I would call my father Dad, but say someone's dad.
    – phyrfox
    Nov 4 '14 at 5:52
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    Could this relate back to e.g. Greek/Roman mythology where properties (usually virtues) wer personified and - apart from a few "main characters" - the names of the gods and goddesses were the same as those of the properties (though thsi may sometimes be a chicken-and-egg problem)? Cf. allegories in art. Nov 4 '14 at 7:01

"with a capital [initial letter]" is an idiom which refers to an absolute or universal version of the idea.

Obviously, this is political hyperbole.

  • 2
    Yep, it just means the "ultimate" version of whatever word is capitalized. This YouTube video is a little long, but has several examples of "with a capital [letter]" -- classical use of the idiom. (And you can see how it's most often used for less than honest purposes): youtu.be/LI_Oe-jtgdI
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 4 '14 at 1:42
  • Related observation: "Most philosophies -- from christianity to communism -- are benign until they arrogantly adopt a capital initial letter."
    – keshlam
    Nov 4 '14 at 3:58
  • Further, this "absolute or universal version" is independent of any objective standard. For example, something that is capital-T True may be objectively false.
    – Mark
    Nov 4 '14 at 5:29
  • 2
    This answer addresses the original question. Some of the people who have provide other answers have ignored the fact that there is a difference between the written word *Truth" and the spoken//written expression "truth/Truth with a capital T".
    – tunny
    Nov 4 '14 at 7:18
  • Yes, the spoken idiom is much different from how capitalization is used in writing.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 4 '14 at 13:14

Little t-ruth is the beliefs, perceptions, ideologies, and rationalizations of the subject and/or subjects. When a scientific institution gives us answers, we get the little truth, because it's filtered through our limited human minds and our social-economic relations. The scientists may simply be incorrect, or the institutions existence may be threatened by accurately disclosing its findings.

Big T-ruth is beyond the perception of the subject, This is what the scientific methodology attempts to identify, and in ideal circumstances the result is a "truth" that is closest as possible to the Truth. Through our inherently limited minds, we are like fish looking out a fishbowl, trying to determine what makes up the bowl.

Denying the existence of this concept is a forceful ideological assertion. Asserting the claim that nothing exists beyond the subject, is the core premise of Fascist ideology. This is what makes Fascism a totalitarian ideology, as it means a subject's will transcends Truth itself.

A material world independent of the subject, which nobody should accept a subject's claim to know it unskeptically, isn't actually being disputed. Nobody disputes this when using something that results from scientific methodology, they wouldn't trust their own life to a consensus opinion, especially when considering the general level of hatred for us simple plebeians.

It is disappointing to see fascist ideology become so firmly established within the humanities. Of course with so much historical revisionism at every step, I may be mistaken assuming it was once anything else. So what exactly is being negated? The idea that they must acknowledge Truth exists beyond their own will, meaning it only exists when they will it to exist. This is post-modernism, or hipster chic fascism, without that crusty old mustache.

  • i do not see any differentiation of Truth and truth in your answer
    – lbf
    Mar 25 '18 at 0:02
  • @lbf I'll reattempt answering the question, I got more examples that help highlight the differences. Mar 25 '18 at 12:49
  • @lbf, I've expanded upon the concepts, I got even more if you'd like more details the different points. Mar 25 '18 at 13:12
  • not trying to beat you up ... great answers have research cited. Show your research/dictionary etc. findings.
    – lbf
    Mar 25 '18 at 13:15
  • @lbf, The associations can be cited, however nobody can prove the existence of T-ruth. They can only argue against it in bad faith, yet live their life on knowledge acquired in the pursuit of T-ruth. If you want citations, I need to know specifically what is in question. Mar 25 '18 at 13:29

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