Personally, I've always suspected that bit of lore is a tale told by copy editors to each other to solace ourselves because the art director and the sales force really decide what's on the covers and everybody knows that.

 

That said, many folks who don't have anything to do with the interdepartmental machinations of publishing do have questions about whether it's Earth or earth, the Earth or the earth, the Sun or the sun, the Moon or the moon.

 

That's harder to generalize about than you might think. Of course, when looking at the names of heavenly bodies, the names of planets (and disputed planets--poor Pluto) are always capitalized; they are proper nouns--the proper names of Greek and Roman deities. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. Thus, Earth, as the proper noun referring to the planet Earth, is capitalized just like the rest of the planets. When the word is used to describe dirt, soil, the ground we stand on, it is lowercase. "The houses were dug into the earth," "She touched the earth; it was damp," and so on.

 

When we discuss Apollo missions to the Moon/moon or sending probes into the Sun/sun, more questions come up. We, here on Earth, have one moon and many folks capitalize it. Yet Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter have moons and more moons, and it makes no sense to capitalize them; luckily, they have their own proper names.

 

Best practice is to pick a style guide and follow it. We still see the Sun, Moon, and Earth capitalized together, especially in some kids' books, but most style guides advise that we lowercase sun and moon, capitalize the Earth in context as one of the planets, and use the lowercase earth for dirt.

 

But on Earth Day, let's all capitalize on the Earth we have. And treat it well. Upper or lowercase, it's the only Earth we've got.

 

What's your stand on capitalization? Whether earth, sun, moon, or stars, President or president, do you tend toward capitalizing, or lowercase?

 

Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and is currently teaching English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.

 

Comments
by on ‎04-21-2010 10:56 AM

Ellen,

 

Looking at my calendar, Earth Day is a day to capitalize!  Let's capitalize on the subject?  I think when we capitalize the other planets, it's done out of respect, recognition, importance.  Do we always show that much respect for our own planet?  Not always.  I don't know that I've seriously thought about this subject....another first, but a good time to start.  Thanks.  Next week is National Arbor Day!  

 

Kathy

 

 

 

by on ‎04-21-2010 11:48 AM

Hmmm...  I don't capitalize the sun or the moon when I'm using "the" in front of it, modifying those nouns.  But in lists of heavenly bodies, I would capitalize Sun and Moon when in the company of the names of the planets.

 

I guess there are times when I think of them as proper nouns (names) and other times when I don't. 

 

How come our moon doesn't have a name like the moons of the other planets? 

by on ‎04-21-2010 12:00 PM

Psychee wrote:  

How come our moon doesn't have a name like the moons of the other planets? 

 

(*) (*)

   0 

(_-_)

 

Because there's a man in ours?

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎04-21-2010 01:32 PM

That is a great question - and a great emoticon, too KathyS!

 

It's a thorny question, capitalizing for respect. Context is everything, once again. I'd agree with Psychee that in context of lists of heavenly bodies, Sun and Moon makes sense..

by Jon_B on ‎04-21-2010 02:28 PM

The Sun and Moon do have proper names.  Sol and Luna.

 

 

by on ‎04-21-2010 02:35 PM

Aren't they just the Latin versions of the names Sun and Moon?  And do we ever see those names in anything other than Science Fiction?

by Jon_B on ‎04-21-2010 02:51 PM

Yeah, but they are used as proper names (largely because Latin is not a "functional" language anymore).  I've seen them used in some science textbooks.

 

 

by on ‎04-21-2010 03:08 PM

So I guess that means that if you were writing in Latin, you'd still have the problem of determining if those words were proper or common nouns, right?

by on ‎04-21-2010 03:37 PM

.......I've got the Sol in the morning and the Luna at night...hmm, the beat is off...one too many syllables..

 

Sol in the morning

shine across a cloudless sky

brighten Luna nights

by on ‎04-21-2010 05:58 PM

Speaking of Sol and Luna; then we'd be calling the Earth, Gia. If those were the common usage.

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