I have a Gargantuan problem to pick with English.
To illustrate the problem, please analyse the below, and learn something about me in the meantime:
- Nationality: American with Dutch roots.
- Favourite food: Mexican and Dutch-Indonesian foods.
- Radical desire: to migrate to Mars and be called a Martian.
- Sensible desire: to become better read in Shakespearean poetry.
- Daily desire: to know biblical truths and be a godly man.
Notice anything unusual with the above?
The emphasised words are all adjectives, most being of the proper kind. Proper adjectives are capitalised if it means to be pertaining to something, or they derive from proper nouns. Thus, my nationality pertains to my birthplace, America, of the united sorts — a proper noun. The foods I cannot get enough pertain to Mexico and the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia — proper nouns.
Why, then, are “biblical” and “godly” not capitalised as adjectives? Do you assume that I want to understand truths from The Grammar Bible, instead of the Holy Bible? Or that I want to have the qualities of a Norse god, instead of God?
These two words are not the only adjectives I wish to make proper. Join me as I lay the case for why adjectives originating from a proper source ought to be capitalised in all used.
First, what makes an adjective proper?
An adjective is a word used as a modifier of a noun to denote the quality of the thing named. For example, red in “the red car”; delicious in “the delicious cake”; and stultifying in “this blog is full of stultifying portentousness”. Adjectives describe persons, places, things, or ideas — nouns.
Adjectives become proper when they are based on proper nouns. We capitalise proper adjectives. Common examples of proper adjectives stem from country names: British (Britain) values, Canadian (Canada) politeness, or Dutch (Dutchistan, i.e. the Netherlands) directness.
Proper adjectives can also stem from persons names or places. Shakespearean is an example used of a proper named based on a name. Trumpian is a newly minted proper adjective used to refer to the action or like-actions of Donald Trump. Martian — or something from or characteristic of Mars — is an example of a proper noun derived from a place.
Many adjectives that we use regularly today once began as proper nouns but have, over time, been made common. I touch on this later on.
Now, let’s get to the gripe.
A casing issue of Biblical proportions
The unusual bit in the block of facts about me is that there are two adjectives which are not capitalised, and the fact that these two adjectives are regularly uncapitalised in English is the source of my irk.
We learned how adjectives are made proper: the derive from proper nouns.
Does “biblical” pertain to any other authoritative book than the B.I.B.L.E — the book for you and me? What other publication of preeminence that makes definitive claims of truth would one be referring to? Lowercasing “biblical” in the context of a conversation with other believers or in the fully understood context of a discussion on the Bible confuses me. It vexes me that we write “biblical values” when, ninety-nine times out of ninety-nine, it is the Holy Bible — a proper noun — that is the source of the adjective.
I make the same argument for “godly.” “Well, which god do you want to be like?” you may ask.
Why do we not capitalise these adjectives if they clearly refer to the Bible and God? Again, I submit this question under the premise that it is the Bible and the Christian God that is the centre of attention. If someone is writing to say that they live by “Greek godly values”, that is fine by me in the capitalisation sense (association with a person who lives according to vindictive and violent deities is a totally separate cause of concern).
If you look up the definition of “Biblical” (emphasis mine), you will find its first definition to say “of, relating to, derived from, or in accord with the Bible” (my emphasis there as well). I am aware that “Bible” as a word has been used colloquially to describe anything that is the definitive manual or book about other topics, as in “the grammarian’s bible”, for example.
Now, look up “godly” in the dictionary. You will find that it is not defined as “of, relating to, or emanating from a god.” The word godly means to be of, relating to, or emanating from the big-G, the OG Himself: God. Making the “g” in minuscule is even found in the Bible. How can this be? Am I to have the characteristics of God, or of Baal?
It is time to make proper adjectives proper again
It is true that proper adjectives lose their capitalisation. This is either the result of the adjective absorbing a new meaning, or convention making minuscule the leading letter. Yet to my understanding of “conventions”, two or more parties must agree the proposition. This party — the party of Sword Word Creative — does not agree with this convention.
I beckon for a crusade to reclaim adjectives that were once fully proper in all uses.
It is true that Belgian fries are better than French fries. I am in the market for quality Venetian blinds. Learning how to read Roman numerals is a lost skill today. It is good to live a Spartan lifestyle every now and then.
How Draconian were COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in your neighbourhood? Do you agree that I am being Quixotic? Or is my crusade to reinstate proper adjectives in their proper place a Titanic venture?
I enjoy Biblical studies and discussions. They are important elements in my pursuit of being a Godly man.