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Capitalisation of nouns in English (historically)

After reading a recipe from 1747, I noticed that all of the nouns are capitalized. Is that a normal thing for that era? It's when things like "Fresh Butter" is in capitals that I started to wonder.

  • 4
    There’s a lot of hip-shooting to wade past, but there are also some real answers here.
    – tchrist
    Sep 9 '12 at 14:45
  • 2
    English orthography in 1747 was a much closer sibling to German than it is today. Sep 9 '12 at 16:17

I searched Google Books for "fresh butter" (it's not case-sensitive), and got 20 results, of which 8 had the word "Butter" capitalised (but only one of them also capitalised "Fresh"). I think at least a couple of the citations were duplicates.

On that basis, I'd say OP's example wasn't abnormal, but it wasn't "the norm" either.

The full story of how standard capitalisation evolved/reduced several hundred years ago is discussed (sometimes cogently) in tchrist's link above. A key point made by user:holgate there is...

The Change didn't occur at once, by some top-down Decree, but happened over a long period of Time, and according to Fashion. Regular Nouns go from Capitalised to lower-case; emphasised Nouns go from Italicised-capitalised to italicised or roman lower-case, depending on House Stile. Certain proper Nouns go from ꜱᴍᴀʟʟ ᴄᴀᴘꜱ to Capitalised.

I've no reason to doubt "holgate" is correct in saying David Foxon's Pope and the Early Eighteenth-Century Book Trade is the canonical Work on this Topic.

  • 1
    There's still uncertainty about capitalisation. On some public notices in the UK it seems quite random. Sep 9 '12 at 19:47
  • @Barrie England: Well, I suppose the government has better things to do than pass laws setting out national standards for capitalisation of Public Notices. Individual "style guides" may be adopted, but to be honest I think it would be more trouble than it's worth trying to get every public body to agree a standard guide and implement it consistently. Anyway, I like my music and movie files to have "Title Capitalised" names, and I'm never sure myself whether to capitalise some of the short words. I'm glad foobar does it for me on music - movies can be tricky. Sep 9 '12 at 19:59

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