In English writing about the god of monotheistic religions, God is the only god whose name we tend to capitalize. But some — including one Pennsylvania state representative — take that capitalization way too far.
As Clout reported last week, State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican representing part of north-central Pennsylvania, responded to the pandemic by introducing House Resolution 835, “Designating March 30, 2020, as ‘A State Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer’ in Pennsylvania.”
She wasn’t kidding.
You can read this bonkers resolution online. Among its abominations — besides attempting to turn the commonwealth into a theocracy — are textbook grammatical examples of two things you should assiduously avoid in writing: exclamation points and rampant, misguided capitalization.
“The House of Representatives devoutly recognizes the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God in all the affairs of men and of nations,” the resolution reads. “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!” it continues later, adding, “It behooves us then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins and to pray for clemency and forgiveness,” and, “But we have forgotten God and we have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace.”
Capitalizing anything that might be God-related is common in Christian writing, but there isn’t much agreement about what does and doesn’t get capitalized. Some say that hypercapitalization shows respect for God, while others argue that it makes writing inaccessible for the less religious. The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style is a thing, with — among standard guidance about spelling and punctuation — nearly 20 pages on which religious terms should be capitalized: an admirable effort to standardize Christian writing, but with enough internal nuances to make any editor’s head spin (Ten Commandments, but second commandment; the Lord’s Anointed, but the Lord’s anointed Savior; the Good Book, but the good news). The style guide advises: “Since Victorian times, religious books have tended to overcapitalize, a style that looks religiose and antiquated to most readers.”
Beyond that, it makes your reader take you less seriously. Capitalization should be sparing — otherwise you look as if you’re randomly capitalizing any word you think is important. Excessive capitalization makes you look shouty, but not smart.
Then there are exclamation points, which rarely if ever pop up in legislation, and for good reason: The Tiger Kings of the punctuation world, exclamation points are flashy and in-your-face enough that you have to sit up and notice them, but ultimately, they’re vapid, empty calories (and they probably murdered their semicolon husbands and fed them to a big cat).
Borowicz defends both the language and the content of her resolution by pointing out that almost the entire text is cribbed verbatim from an 1863 proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. But in 1863, they also hyphenated New-York, so we shouldn’t take any editing lessons from more than 150 years ago.
Thankfully for our commonwealth (and for the separation of church and state), the resolution died. If it hadn’t, that would have been a “state day of humiliation” that no amount of praying would have gotten us over.
The Angry Grammarian, otherwise known as Jeffrey Barg, looks at how language, grammar, and punctuation shape our world, and appears biweekly. Send comments, questions and deity pronouns to email@example.com.