Title Case

Reviewing application guidelines the other day for this year’s Undergraduate Symposium, I noticed an explicit request for project titles to be submitted in title case. The deadline is this Friday, the 14th, and I have heard from a couple of students who are proposing projects, who are asking me to be their sponsor, etc. I sponsored one presenter last year. Might be two this time around.

I’m sure I’ve thought about title case before, but somehow it looked different this time. Why should the phrase pique new question(s), I can’t say, but it did?: Where does title case come from? Who set these rules? Why? Is its appeal purely aesthetic?

I could find quite a few pages listing out the basic rules, but nothing on why these rules make sense in the first place. I mean, why not capitalize every word in the title? Why should articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions–is there no sense of fairness?–appear always in lower case? Okay, maybe I can understand the lowly status of articles. Articles get plenty of moments in the sunny A-slot where they stand prominently before nouns. If there are any dogs, any outcasts here, they are prepositions and coordinating conjunctions. After all, with the latest revaluing of prepositions (e.g., Lanham’s at/through; CGB’s addition, from), you’d think title case–and the keepers of title case standards–could allow for the immense, even expanding, conceptual weight born by (I almost wrote “of”!) these low-ranking parts of speech. On the other hand, it’d be a shame to have a proposal rejected for trying out a reformed version of title case.

Added: If you can resist clicking on the advertisements, Titlecase.com will convert titular straw into title case gold.