Capitalization shows how tough written English can be

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As a writer, do you ever think about capitalization, or do you just whip the words out the way they feel and look “right” to you? The rules for capitalization and their usage demonstrate just how tough written English can be. For example, which of these is correct? And why?

“My auto insurance agent tells me adding rv insurance will boost my policy premiums quite a bit.”

“My auto insurance agent tells me adding RV insurance will boost my policy premiums quite a bit.”

When used as an abbreviation for “recreational vehicles,” should you write “rv” or “RV”? And I will quickly tell you, I could not find a definitive answer to that question. I think I’ve seen it usually as “RV,” but poking around in our outdated edition of the AP Stylebook really didn’t clarify the issue.

The AP has two or three pages (our older edition does anyway) devoted to capitalization. Within those pages are references to other entries in the book listing specific examples of capitalization — including a reference to their listing for “abbreviations and acronyms.” Maybe I simply missed it, but I saw nothing when I scanned through all those pages and entries specifically showing “rv”/”RV.”

On a wild and desperate hunch, I checked the “Sports Guidelines” section of the stylebook — and found no answer there.

Then I remembered our old friend the dictionary (in this case Miriam-Webster’s “Tenth Collegiate”), and there I found “RV” listed and defined as “recreational vehicle.” The style in the dictionary was “RV,” not “rv.” Also, it really seemed odd to me that the dictionary entry for “recreational vehicle” didn’t include “RV” as an acceptable abbreviation?

See what I meant by the title of this post? Capitalization is only one of the many, many oddities of English grammar and style that make our good language downright tough for writers.

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