February 19, 2012
The heartbreak of RCS
Millions of Americans have it without even suspecting. But what they don't know definitely can hurt them. Are you a secret sufferer?
Take this simple test
Study these texts:
Turn Left at 148th Ave SEand
Go 1/2 mile and turn Left at SE 117th St
Turn Right at 150th Ave SE
Head straight into our Parking Lot [#]
First we’ll create some Model classes to represent Genres and Albums within our store. [#]and
These should look wrong to you. If they don't, then you, too, probably suffer from Random Capitalization Syndrome, or RCS.
What is it?
RCS causes writers to capitalize Words that they think are Important. It is related to, but not the same as, CEWIASS (Capitalize Every Word in a Sentence Syndrome), which often affects children, and it's not to be confused with CELS (Capitalize Every Letter Syndrome), which is sometimes known by the colloquial name SHOUTING.
Where does RCS come from?
Science is still working on the question of where RCS comes from. Theories that have been proposed include the following.
The "German 101" Theory
Sufferers from RCS might have been exposed at a critical time in their writing development to German 101, where students learn that all Nouns are capitalized:
Der Mann legte das Buch auf den Tisch.
(The Man laid the Book on the Table.)
This theory is considered flawed, however, because a significant percentage of RCS sufferers took French instead.
The "Declaration of Independence" Theory
Another theory holds that RCS sufferers have spent an inordinate amount of time studying 18th-century texts, which exhibit historical evidence of RCS:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.Critics of the theory point out that this seems like an unlikely explanation, because for all the discussion about those documents, no one ever actually reads them.
The "Winnie-the-Pooh" (WtP) Theory
A more plausible theory is that RCS victims learned to read via the books of A. A. Milne, especially those featuring a Bear of Very Little Brain (who would sometimes Think of Things). It's believed that RCS sufferers might have learned to read from sentences like these:
He was getting rather tired by this time, so that is why he sang a Complaining Song.Proponents of the theory believe that early exposure to WtP affects the ability of young children to form clear ideas about capitalization — a kind of reverse Interference Theory that renders impotent any subsequent Language Arts classes in the middle school years.
I have discovered that the bees are now definitely Suspicious.
If I know anything about anything, that hole means Rabbit, and Rabbit means Company. And Company means Food and Listening-to-Me-Humming and such like.
(Efforts at holding the estate of A. A. Milne liable for widespread RCS have so far proved fruitless.)
Why is it a problem?
Although victims of RCS often don't recognize that they have the affliction, or consider it only mild (similar to those who suffer Socks-With-Sandals Syndrome), RCS has potentially serious long-term effects. These include:
- RCS reduces readability.
To plop it into the middle of a sentence for no good reason gives the brain a micro-second freeze that interrupts comprehension.
- RCS reduces credibility.
To the trained eye, the capitalized words above scream "amateur" and are a huge distraction. They also make me want to put down whatever I'm reading and never pick it up again. If it's a book, that means I won't recommend it because I won't finish it. If the errors are on the author's website, bio, or other marketing materials, it stops me from picking up the book at all.
- RCS annoys the sh*t out of people.
People who suffer RCS are also at significantly higher risk of contracting Quotation Marks for Emphasis Disorder (QMFED) and Underlining Words Instead of Italicizing Them Malady (UWIOITM).
What can victims do?
Recommended treatment for RCS is for the patient to undergo an intense course of study of the rules of English capitalization. The length of treatment depends on the severity of the affliction and on how responsive the patient is to treatment.
Victims can sometimes alleviate the worst symptoms by using a high-quality spelling-checker program. However, until a cure is effected, the victim is advised to pass every text they write past an editor.
RCS is considered in remission when patients can cite a specific rule for when they capitalize a word, and that none of those "rules" include the following:
- "To emphasize the word."
- "Because it's an important word."
- "Because I like the way it looks."
Please help us
If you know someone who suffers from RCS, urge them to seek treatment as soon as possible. And help us raise awareness of this tragic affliction. Educate writers about RCS at every opportunity. Monitor children carefully for early symptoms. Above all, don't let a writer convince you that the symptoms are "fine" or that "no one cares about that." All too often, the effects of RCS are felt too late.