1. MCWilliams
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    MCWilliams New Member

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    Capitalization of Fantasy Races

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MCWilliams, Feb 24, 2009.

    I have struggled for quite some time with the conundrum of capitalization as it concerns the names of fantasy races. For the longest time I have capitalized many of my non-human race names. This seemed fairly acceptable until I realized that humans were "yet another race", and if the names of the various other races were capitalized, well, Human should be capitalized too. "The five Humans stood at the table waiting for the Scaithi to leave the room," just looks awkward and silly.

    But in science-fiction we are often met with capitalization on the names of virtually every alien races. For example, let us make up the name Xorthergon for the multi-tentacled, six-eyed inhabitants of the planet Xortherga. Why then would Xorthergon be capitalize while human would not be capitalized? Because Xortherga is then name of a planet, and Xorthergons are the people from the planet Xortherga. A human from Earth (or Terra) might be called an Earthling, or more often in modern sci-fi, a Terran, but the word “human” would not be capitalized (unless of course the planet Earth changed its name to “Hum”).

    But back to the subject of fantasy. Tolkien, as we know, did sometimes capitalize Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit, and Men, but as far as I know he did this only as it pertained to the collective race of Elves, Dwarfs, Hobbits, or Men. When he spoke of a small party of dwarfs or a group of hobbits in the Shire, he did not capitalize their racial name. However, I feel that consistency is key.

    Almost universally, the names of species are lower cased, such as dog, cat, wolf, human, with the exception of scientific Latin names (Canis lupus, Homo sapien, etc.). On the other hand, virtually every race name is capitalized (African America, Latino, Caucasian, and so forth), and we also have Vikings, Celts, and so forth. But in the broad context, the very general term for our species, “human”, is never seen capitalized (well, except at the beginning of a sentence).

    So why are fantasy race names, such as elf, dwarf, ogre, and so forth, usually lower cased? Which is more correct: elf or Elf; dwarf or Dwarf? Are there any hard and fast rules, or am I just over thinking the problem? Does any have any particular suggestions or insight?
     
  2. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I can offer you no wisdom on this matter, as I have, I assure you, contemplated the same when deciding on whether to capitalize my species 'draknian'.

    I would capitalize it offhand, out of sheer whim, but realized that I did not capitalize human.

    Human is the same exact type of word used in the selfsame manner as 'draknian,' so why should one be capitalized and not the other?

    Your other examples become quite complex, and I wonder if, perhaps, more complex than is necessary.
    It all boils down to the simple question:

    If elf is 'Elf,' then why not human, 'Human'?
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If a race's name is actually a national name, or otherwise directly based on a proper noun, then it should be capitalized. like the Southrons in Lord of the Rings, or Asians in the real world.

    Species names in common languages are generally lower case. We don't have multiple sentient species in our common experience, though. But as "human" is in lower case, and so was "royalty" when it was considered divinely-empowered more-than-human. We don't capitalize "aliens" in common use either.

    Undoubtedly there will arise borderline cases, where the name is derived from a proper name and then evolved a couiple of times. But in general. if it derives from an identifiable proper noun, it should be capitalized, otherwise not.
     
  4. MCWilliams
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    MCWilliams New Member

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    Thanks! That is a bit helpful. Species verses races is also a bit ambiguous in fantasy (are elves, dwarfs, and humans different species or different races?). In my work, I treat most humanoid non-human races as "hominids", that is, of the human genus, but variant species.

    This leans me more in the direction of consistently lower casing. But I should probably track down a good style guide (like the CMS) and see if it has anything to say (probably won't be too helpful for fantasy races, but you never know).
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not to through a wrench in the works, but not all human (or Human?) languages treat this subject in the same manner. In Spanish, all adjectives applied to a person, to include race and national origin, are in the lower case, while the nations of origin themselves, as proper nouns, are in the upper case. Example:

    Puerto Ricans are from Puerto Rico

    Los puertorriqueños son de Puerto Rico.


    The French are from France.

    Los franceses son de Francia.


    Americans are from The United States of America.

    Los americanos son de Los Estados Unidos de Norte América.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'll munch that wrench, if you please.

    Any capitalization rules have to be in the context of the language the story is written in. As this is a forum for writing in English, the rules have to be in terms of that language. Wrey's point is well taken, but in the end, we still capitalize Spanish dancer, regardless of whether that phrase would be capitalized in Spanish.
     
  7. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I have to second this, as I love when common sense is wielded so handily.
     
  8. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    I don't capitalize species names, with very few exceptions. The wheedles in my Confederation of Peoples stories are just wheedles, not Wheedles, unless they come from, say, the Carripteem family or something at which point I might specify "wheedles" versus "Carriptak wheedles."

    For example, an argument in which the family is being vehemently opposed:

    *** begin example

    Yors fluffed herself up, hissing angrily, and hopped forward. Jerem merely clicked his beak and cackled, laughing in Yors's face. Behind him, the wheedles were splitting: the Carriptak moving swiftly to stand with Yors, the others moving to support Jerem. Within half a minute, the room had divided itself visibly - Peter, watching, thought it looked rather like a fried egg, with the blonde-and-silver Carriptak in a group surrounded by their palely patterned brethren. Not that all the Carriptak were blonde, or that only milky-feathered wheedles disagreed, but enough of them did.

    "Will they fight?" Peter asked, not taking his eyes off the spectacle. Behind him, Alodhva shifted position, and Peter could feel the alien's muscles tense where he leaned against her foreleg.

    She spoke only slowly, and not in English. Peter thought of the language as 'the language of the hollal,' even though he knew perfectly well that not all of Alodhva's people spoke it. "Jerem and Yors will not. They posture only. Wheedles - " here she broke from her usual language to whistle the proper word for 'wheedle' "- must support opinion with action in order to believe in it. So they must posture, else no Carripteem will admit that the majority disagrees with Yors's decision."

    He nodded but didn't relax until she did. Unless... was Alodhva deliberately only loosing the muscles of the leg he leaned on? She was smart enough to fool him that way. But -

    Peter cut that thought short, forcefully. That way lay madness. If he tried to guess and second-guess everything the hollal did, well, first he'd find himself doubting her - and despite what Captain Winters had said about the aliens he'd met, Peter really didn't have any reason to think that Alodhva had any ulterior motive in befriending him. And trying to outguess a hollal savant wasn't just headache-inducing, it was stupid.

    *** end example
     

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