Is there a word for the literary or rhetorical device evinced in the following examples, where a count noun is capitalized into a name thereby evoking an implied mythology?

  • "in the burrows of the Nightmare" (Auden, "As I Walked Out One Evening")
  • "we should rush fiercely to the Exchange for our last possibility of speculation, of success, of disappointment" (Eliot, The Lifted Veil)
  • "A red-nosed Fool who makes a fool of fools" (Auden, "The Door")
  • "The Bad Lands and the sinister direction" (Auden, "The Crossroads")

In these examples, count nouns are capitalized. They are treated, in some sense, as the names of concrete places and things which serve as a general symbol. As another example, I might, for instance, spontaneously refer to death using the metaphorical name "Blacklands".

This device has the effect of evoking something like an implied mythology which exists beyond the text. This suggests to me that maybe you can call the device mythologizing or mythologization. But I am wondering whether there are more specific names for this phenomenon or related ones.

By the way, if anyone has any other examples, or suggestions as to how I can clarify the question or isolate the phenomenon I'm concerned with, please share them.

  • William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
    – TRomano
    Dec 27, 2015 at 16:46
  • 1
    Hmm... TV Tropes lists this as "Capital Letters are Magic" but it doesn't mention any specific word used in literary analysis for this device.
    – herisson
    Dec 27, 2015 at 23:36

2 Answers 2


Some of this comes from the germanic roots of English: every noun is capitalized. The older the source, the more often one sees it.

Some of it comes from the line between adjectives and proper nouns. Sobriquets, for example, are usually capitalized because they are part of a person's name or title

The Black Prince, Little Richard

Part of it might from emphasis:

Best Dinner Ever

I'm not sure that this is specific to mythologization rather than a poetic use of syntax for any purpose.

  • Minor niggle: capitalization is not part of syntax, as far as I know. It's part of orthography. Other than that, I agree with what you wrote. But, I don't see any answer to the question of what to call this device.
    – herisson
    Dec 29, 2015 at 2:12

The only extant name for this type of phenomenon seems to be capital letters are magic, which TVtropes defines as "tak[ing] a short, evocative term and capitaliz[ing] it". The effect is that "ordinary words... take on special new meanings."

An example they give from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is actually reminiscent of Auden:

The door was the way to... to...

The Door was The Way.

Note: I'm self-answering this question based on an old comment of @sumelic.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.