Bible or bible?

| | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

Someone found this blog searching for the following question:

should you capitalize bible

I'd be surprised if the searcher is ever going to see this post, but what would be the best way to answer that question? I was always taught to capitalize it, but I was also taught to capitalize pronouns for divine persons, and I've since concluded that that's not just unnecessary but a bad idea entirely. So should we capitalize the initial letter of 'Bible' or not?

I don't think the arguments against capitalizing divine pronouns apply here, since those arguments rely on the ambiguity of pronouns in terms of who they refer to. The issue is whether it's a proper name of the sort that we should capitalize. We capitalize proper names, which is why I mark it wrong when my students use the word 'god' with lowercase when they are referring to a divine being as if with a name. Some people think they shouldn't capitalize the word if they don't or aren't sure they believe in God or one god, but we capitalize the name 'Gandalf', and no one believes he exists.

But is it different with the expression 'the Bible'? After all, we're not capitalizing the first letter of 'the', and the presence of that definite article to begin with is unusual in a name. But then other names do begin with articles, e.g. the Superbowl, the Beatles, the Boston Celtics, the Kama Sutra. So there's no assumption that you really believe the Bible is holy. It's just treating the name as a proper name of the same kind as the rest of this list. My conclusion then (in the absence of any argument to the contrary or any considerations undermining the one consideration that I've given) is that we ought to capitalize the initial B in 'Bible' when using 'the Bible' as a proper name. This reasoning would not support capitalizing the adjectival form 'biblical'.

I guess this means I need to be making a note of this also in my students' papers. I'd been thinking this was the sort of thing people could disagree about in a way that isn't true of 'God'. But it appears that's not so. You get it wrong when you talk about the bible as opposed to the Bible (at least when you're talking about the Bible and not some TV show's backstory guide for the writers of the show, which is indeed a bible).

1 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Bible or bible?.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://movabletype.ektopos.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/3577

For this weeks Carnival I’m going to attempt to quote a short scripture passage to highlight each entry. I apologize in advance if the selection is illuminated by verses which on reflection are not the optimal choice. Please find the full carniva... Read More

9 Comments

Celts - Celtic; Shakespeare - Shakespearean; America - American; thus Bible - Biblical. It stands to reason, does it not?

Chris Weimer

Well, dictionaries seem to allow for both capitalizing it and not capitalizing it, so that argument is at least not universally accepted.

Here are some clear counterexamples to the principle that adjectives based on capitalized proper names must be capitalized:

God -- godly
Teddy Roosevelt -- teddy bear
Senate -- senatorial
Plato -- platonic (although perhaps only lower case when the view in question is removed more from Plato, as with platonic relationships)
Venice -- venetian blinds
Xerox -- xeroxed
Luna -- lunar, lunatic
Hercules -- herculean (goes both ways)

I think that's sufficient to show that in some case things go this way, and I think the dictionary evidence is enough to show that it's at least common enough practice to do it in this specific case.

I would have to agree. My grad adviser at MU made it a point that in any scholarly work it must be capitalized because it denotes a specific holy book.

The best analogy I can think of is "the Constitution" (as in, a specific text in United States history). In most American usage, "the Constitution" involves a capital C; "constitutional" does not.

Along the same lines, of course, any other specific holy book begins with a capital letter. Does anyone make a case for writing about "the bhagavad gita" or "the babylonian talmud" or "the qur'an"?

What about the BASIC English language rule that the NAME of a book is ALWAYS capitalized? Why does capitalizing Bible have anything to do with whether one believes or not? Last I heard, it's the Number 1 selling book of all time!

As for Chris' list of uncapitalized examples, they (except teddy bear) are not nouns, let alone proper nouns - and are not "the name of a book".

Well, you do have perfectly legitimate uses of the word as a common noun, e.g. the bible for a TV show that gives all the background on the characters and world for writers to use as a guide.

Chris was arguing that we ought to capitalize the adjective 'Biblical'. The examples he gave were relevant in terms of their parts of speech. It's just that there are plenty of examples that go the other way, as my comment showed.

a simple yes or no would have done it

It would have answered the yes-or-no question for those only interested in the answer. I'm not one of those. I like to understand why something is true, so I decided to think it through on my blog, which is partly for the purpose of thinking things through in the public light so that I can interact with others on the things I'm thinking about.

Parableman,
I thought your post was very interesting. I would also have to agree with you.

Leave a comment

Contact

    The Parablemen are: , , and .

    Twitter: @TheParableMan

Archives

Archives

Fiction I've Finished Recently

Non-Fiction I've Finished Recently

I've Been Listening To