The horrors of capital headlines

Into our inbox this morning tumbled this one:


News from Los Angeles hotels? When did we subscribe to that website? Never. Then came the text:

Il y a dix ans tout juste, Patrick Elouarghi et Philippe Chapelet faisaient la rencontre de matali crasset. C’était le début d’une aventure singulière.

Right. There’s a clue. It’s in French. Yes, the Hi Hotel in Paris, eco friendly, built in little boxes, excellent fun but no room to swing a chat. That one – we signed up to that. They’ve sent us a newsletter. It says “Hi Hotel(s) News”.

Even if you don’t speak French, you could tell more from the headline if it hadn’t been all in capital letters:

La news de Hi Hotel(s)

Of course it doesn’t help that the English language has borrowed ‘hotel’ from the French and that the French have borrowed news from English. Also, in this case ‘hi’ is pronounced ‘high’ (which comes out as ‘eye’ because the French owners don’t pronounce the h). But when you can see that LA doesn’t mean Los Angeles but ‘the’, in French, things become a lot clearer.

Which brings us to an interesting point about using capital letters to make things clearer, not the other way around.

They creep in everywhere people want to make something look important, instead of being used for names – proper nouns as we called them at school. People love to use them for their job descriptions, especially people calling themselves Directors and Managers. I’ve even met someone who liked to give Orange Juice capitals because it was significant to her.

Using all caps online is like shouting. There’s some packaging on my desk as I write here, screaming at me: EXTRA MOISTURISING CREAM FOR DRY SKIN CONDITIONS.

They can sneak in when the designers are a bit bored with lower case and think something would looks better in all caps, even if it sends different messages from the ones the writer intended. (Is anyone here old enough to remember Parker and Lady Penelope in the FAB ice lollies advertisement?)

And now that style guides advise us not to put full stops in abbreviations, L.A. becomes LA, which is all very cool and everything, but not always that helpful. The musicians among us just want to sing it.

The result? Confusion. Something we really need to avoid when writing for business. So next time you reach for the caps lock button, resist. IT MIGHT BE MISUNDERSTOOD.