One of the hardest parts of making a fantasy or science fiction world can be names. Not just for people, but for metaphysical concepts, alien races or awe-inspiring devices/weapons. When writers don't want to make up a new word, they'll often take a short, evocative term and capitalize it. The practice is still so commonplace that J. R. R. Tolkien (who was a language professor at a respected university) decided to use a trick of combining Capital Letters Are Magic with commonplace words from languages he'd made up for fun in his spare time to create all of his fictional-but-now-well-known fantasy names. Here on this site we get a lot of tropes this way as well, such as the The Load and The Dragon.note
In universe, a character may comment on how they can "hear" the Capital Letters. Of course, this is easily explained as proper nouns have inflections, pauses, and emphasis that normal speech does not.
Ideally, this will give the concept a simple, descriptive name that doesn't sound too dopey. Unfortunately, this can cause hiccups when they want to use the word in its usual sense, and often leads to eye-rolling from jaded fantasy fans.
Alongside ordinary words that take on special new meanings, neologisms are frequently capitalized as well. If fantasy characters talk about smeerps instead of Smeerps, then it may throw the reader off. (Even if these characters are Smeerp farmers who wouldn't think of the animals as "special", and who also ride horses instead of Horses.) Well-established fantasy concepts, such as dragons and vampires, don't get this treatment. It seems that lowercase words feel more orthodox and "official", and it's therefore incorrect for a fictional world to have a "new" one without the characters somehow noticing that something is different.
Brand Names Are Better is another example of the effect. After the "magic" has gone away, you get Brand Name Takeover. (The magical new power to copy papers is Xeroxing; years later, the everyday task of copying papers is xeroxing.)
This trope probably originates in the fact that up until sometime around the turn of the nineteenth century it was conventional in English to capitalise all nouns, much as it still is in German. Hence capitalising random words makes them feel Old and Important.
Compare The Trope Without a Title and We Will Use WikiWords in the Future (when two or more simple words are used in this way). Contrast Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp", which is putting fantastical names to common things. A popular alternative is Phantasy Spelling, though such terms are often also capitalized. The most common way to make a name out of it is to spell it with a "the".
- The Force
- The One Power
- The Speech, The Powers That Be, The Lone Power
- The Source, The Blue, The Red, and The Green
- The Warp
- The Crystal(s)
- THE POWER
- The Art
- The Light, The other Light
- The Living Flame
- The Quickening
- The Symphony
- The Will and The Word
- The Word, The LORD note
- The Script
- Nothing, as well as The Nothing
- The Skill, The Wit
- The Way
- The Word
- The Void
- The Master
- Shards, as well as Vessels
- The Hours
- The Dark Is Rising: Old Ones. The Light. The Dark.
- The Flood, Forerunners, and Precursors.
- Also, the Covenant's Grunts, Jackals, Drones, Hunters, Engineers, Brutes, Elites, and Prophets, which all have non-English common names anywaynote .
- Warcraft: The Forsaken and the Scourge (the antiheroic and villainous undead factions), the Alliance and the Horde (human/elf/dwarf and orc/troll/tauren). Night Elves are the Sentinels, but strangely this one never really caught on.
- The Eternals from Marvel Comics
- The Neverborn and the Primordials from Exalted, as well as the eponymous Exalted. Lunar and Solar castes also get a rather negative form of this treatment from the Immaculate Order, with titles such as the Deceivers, the Blasphemous, the Frenzied, etc...
- Older Than Print: The Fair Folk being from medieval European folklore.
- Gregory Maguire's Wicked makes an important distinction between animals and Animals.
- Likewise, capitalization serves to distinguish sentient hominids of Ringworld, such as Hanging People or Grass Giants, from non-sentient ones such as vampires. Subverted in that, while this convention is used in the (English) text of the last two novels, it's stated in-character that the trade-language of Ringworlders actually uses a prefix to tell them apart.
- The Forevers from Ayreon
- The Fallen
- The Thrones, the Dominions, the Powers, the Virtues
- The Powers That Be
- The Powers What Is
- Keys to the Kingdom has a lot of these: Denizens, Nithlings, Piper's Children, etc.
- DMFA has Beings, with sapient non-Being creatures being Creatures.
- The Endless
- And, in possibly the least creative example ever: The Race.
- The Chosen
- Originally, the Zerg and the Protoss, although they were knocked down to lowercase letters later on, because real-life species' common names aren't capitalized.
- Mass Effect: not most species, but the Protheans, the Collectors, and especially the Reapers.
- The Others from A Song of Ice and Fire. Renamed the White Walkers for the live action adaptation, presumably because they didn't think this trope would come across as clearly in speech.
- The Great Old Ones, the Outer Gods, the Elder Gods and the Elder Things
- Immortals and Aberrations from El Goonish Shive.
- The Shadows
- The Caster Chronicles: Caster, Mortal, Incubus, Dark, Light, Claimed...
- The Stormlight Archive: Ryshadim, Parshendi. Interestingly, the parshmen (mindless Parshendi, essentially) are not capitalized.
- By tradition, all sapient species in the Star Wars Legends (up to and including Humans, Depending on the Writer).
- The Homeward Bounders has Them, so dreaded that They are not only always given a capital letter, Their pronouns are italicised as well.
- In the Dragaera novels, the 17 Dragaeran Houses or the members of same are referred to by the capitalized names of their associated heraldic animals - Jhereg, Dragon, Teckla, etc - whereas the animals' names are left uncapitalized. Thus, a Dzur might be commended for hunting down a rogue dzur by an official of House Dzur.
- The Wolves in The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, not to be confused with wolves. (How confusing those instructions sound when spoken aloud is immediately lampshaded.)
- The Fence of The Amory Wars is another name for Heaven, where the Prise hang out (another name for angels).
- In The Butcher Bird, the proper names of ghouls are always rendered in CAPITAL BOLD.
- From a Naruto Fan Fic: "Capital letters were very useful when dealing with Gaara. They helped to distinguish between sand, which got in your shorts, and Sand, which could kill you."
- The Total Drama fanfic, The Legend of Total Drama Island has a couple of notable cases:
- Cody gets "The Mother Of All Wedgies" as opposed to just any old wedgie.
- One of The Storyteller's standard epithets for Justin is, "The Embodiment of Manly Beauty".
- The Brightest Shadow: Conspicuously not used. Words for magic or other races that are familiar to the protagonists are never capitalized.
- More 'official' than 'magic, but Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, has a passage in which the main character navigated a small island. It is so small, in fact, that there is only one of most things-hence titles such as 'the Car', 'the Street', and 'the Squeegee'.
- Used frequently by Katherine Kurtz in her Deryni works to distinguish magically-enhanced things/processes from analogous ordinary ones (healing vs. Healing, veil vs. Veil). Also used in particular phrases coined to describe magical objects and processes, such as Mind Seeing, Truth Reading, Truth Saying, Transfer Portal.
- The Land Of Green Ginger piles on the Significant Capital Letters to the point of excess; it's a children's book and mildly parodies that sort of Heavy-Handed Fairy Tale Significance.
- AURYN in The Neverending Story is always spelled as such.
- Terry Pratchett both uses and lampshades this a lot:
- The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents: in one header you find out that Mister Bunnsy finds himself in "the Dark Wood".
- In many Witches books, the act of temporarily occupying an animal's brain is called Borrowing.
- The Assassins' Guild takes great pains to distinguish between Assassins and mere assassins. The former are members of a classy and highly professional Guild with standards to maintain; the latter are "curs who go around murdering people for money."
- Lampshaded in The Truth, in which there's a comment in the narration that it's usually a sign of Sanity Slippage when people start thinking in capitals.
- The Smell of Foul Ole Ron is described as having a personality of its own and fully deserving the capital letter.
- From Eric:
"He didnt like the sound of Him being back and Him being angry. Whenever something important enough to deserve capital letters was angry in the vicinity of Rincewind, it was usually angry with him."
- Played with in Men at Arms, with Gaspode the Wonder Dog's boast about how the Dog Guild won't dare to cross him because he has "the Power". While this sounds like it's some great magical secret, it turns out to be the same ability to speak Human that he'd demonstrated since Moving Pictures ... it's just particularly effective when he uses it to order his fellow dogs to "Sit!".
- This is used in Feet of Clay when Dorfl is finally rebaked and given a tongue. There's nothing spectacularly magical about All Those Capital Letters, but much like the one who speaks them, every word has a certain weight. Especially the ones about Serving The Public Interest, and Seriously Prodding Buttock. The impression given is that each of them thuds neatly into place like an exquisitely carved stone block, and one of the precepts of the Disc is that they are, in contrast to the general pervasive magical atmosphere, very, very real.
- Keys to the Kingdom again, which has the eponymous Keys, only one of which even resembles a key.
- The Front Door, Nothing, The House, The Will... he murders it.
- In Harry Potter, there's the Trace (a term which, interestingly, only comes up a good deal after the concept has been well established). Places can be made Unplottable, words can be Tabooed, and people Stunned. In most cases, though, novel magical concepts/devices will be capitalized and a made-up word, such as Occlumency (not, say, Clouding). Or a pre-existing word, such as "squib" (a small explosive) or "snitch" (a tattle-tale), will be used in so unrelated a manner that it feels like a made-up word. As is common in other fiction, the capitalization trend doesn't apply when it's something the author didn't invent: wands and dragons versus Time-Turners and Thestrals.
Among the everyday (to wizards) terms that are capitalized in Harry Potter: the names of the game Quidditch, all the positions, and all the balls; the names of other games, like Gobstones; the name of every spell and potion; many generic job titles, like "Healer"; subdivisions of people denoting special attributes or abilities, like Parseltongue or Animagus; many plant and animal names; many, many man-made products, like various types of candy (it's usually unclear what's a brand name and what's a generic term — there seem to be a lot of things in the wizarding world that are only made by one company/family/individual, or at least only one in Britain). The school subjects are also always capitalized, but that's a stylistic choice a writer might make even if they were just Chemistry and Creative Writing instead of Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts.
- The Knight and Rogue Series has Gifts, which give people the ability to detect potentially dangerous wild magic, as well as a slew of other randomly assorted unreliable abilities such as knowing if your in danger (which can be anything from being stalked to having your aunt trying to arrange your marriage) or taming animals.
- Used quite a bit in the Tales of the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. The Tradition is, like the Force, always capitalized, as are many roles and patterns.
- Storyteller Mark Lewis sometimes remarks that when he first read Winnie-the-Pooh he noticed that some words were capitalized even though they weren't proper nouns. Much later he asked a British friend why these words were capitalized, and said friend responded "Because they are Important."
- Magykal words in Septimus Heap are always capitalized.* "The Change" in The Last Dove to refer to the ability of all the characters to shapeshift.
- The criminal hackers who regularly meet in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, in Vernor Vinge's novella "True Names", regularly use this in-game for things like True Names (your real-world identity), The Great Enemy (cops), and The True Death (real-world death of a player).
- In InterWorld, the protagonists can travel through universes. One particular line is "I went for a walk. Then I went for a Walk."
- Isaac Asimov:
- "The Evitable Conflict": The supercomputers that are consulted before every policy decision are called the Machines. Each major region has a dedicated Master Computer and they coordinate with one another.
- "It's Such a Beautiful Day": A teleportation device known as a "Door" is used to go from place to place. This is lampshaded by the mechanic:
"That's a door, too, ma'am. You don't give that kind a capital letter when you write it."
- "Let's Get Together": The narration points out that characters in this story unconsciously emphasize the "Us" and "Them" terms dividing the two world superpowers, because saying "East", "Reds", "Soviets", or "Russians" would be misleading/wrong, while "We" and "They" remain accurate.
He was not particularly aware of his use of a slightly stressed pronoun in his reference to the enemy, the equivalent of capitalization in print. It was a cultural habit of this generation and the one preceding.
- Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn: The specialness of a "Jump" is indicated by its capitalization. A jump just means to leap in the air, whereas a Jump means the movement into and out of hyperspace.
- "My Son, the Physicist": When the mother describes how women are Gossipy Hens, she emphasizes the importance of "continuous communication" as her son calls it by capitalizing the words; Just Keep Talking.
- "Nightfall (1941)": When Sheerin 501 explains the new scientific law that the astronomers have figured out, he pronounces the capital letters in "Theory of Universal Gravitation". (It took Lagash scientists four hundred years to figure out Isaac Newton's theory.)
- "Risk": The asteroid orbiting Hyper Base is technically called H937, but everyone on Hyper Base says "it" instead, and eventually the impersonal pronoun achieved the dignity of capitalization.
- Words of Science and the History Behind Them: The entry for "Calorie" explains that calorie is short for the calorie-gram (the amount of heat needed to "raise one gram of water from 14.5°C to 15.5°C"). Calorie, on the other hand, is on nutrition facts and is short for the kilocalorie, a thousand times larger. Because we can't hear the difference in Real Life, this causes confusion.
- Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's Nightfall (1990): Due to phobias and rarity, dark is often called Dark or Darkness, and used as a curse word for ill-fortune. Other terms are also spoken with capital letters, such as Stars, Cold, and Doom, all associated with the religious fear caused by nightfall.
- "Cheese" in Who Moved My Cheese is written with a capital C when it refers to what the littlepeople want in life.
- The Stormlight Archive: Shardblades, Shardplate, Lashings, Memory.
- Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought trilogy features plenty of examplesnote , but one of the strongest examples in the trilogy occurs when Beyonders trapped in the Slow Zone start referring to it sullenly as "Down Here".
- The Night Land and Awake in the Night Land capitalizes anything that has to do with the titular Night Land. The adventurers have to get Prepared before going Out, and they must take care to not be Destroyed.
- BAD: Or, the Dumbing of America by Paul Fussell begins with an explanation of what separates "BAD" things from the merely "bad":
Bad is something like dog-do on the sidewalk, or a failing grade, or a case of scarlet fever—something no one ever said was good. BAD is different. It is something phony, clumsy, witless, untalented, vacant, or boring that many Americans can be persuaded it is genuine, graceful, bright, or fascinating. Lawrence Welk is a low example, George Bush a high. For a thing to be really BAD, it must exhibit elements of the pretentious, the overwrought, or the fraudulent. Bathroom faucet handles that cut your fingers are bad. If gold-plated, they are BAD. Dismal food is bad. Dismal food pretentiously served in a restaurant associated with the word gourmet is BAD.
- The Heralds of Valdemar series uses Capitals frequently to distinguish concepts unique to the titular group from more common definitions. Heralds are not merely royal mouthpieces, but do-anything agents of the Crown. Their Companions are not simply friends or compatriots, but equine Bond Creatures and Intellectual Animals, who Choose the Heralds for their abilities and Incorruptible Pure Pureness, and thereafter call them "Chosen." Their Gifts are not presents or mundane talents, but Psychic Powers. The King (or Queen) and Heir of Valdemar are always referred to as such. Indeed, this trope is powerful in Valdemar that the start of the first book sees the heroine traveling on the Road beside the River.
- Used constantly in The Paper Magician to refer to the schools of magic, their practitioners, and the use of magical powers. Anyone can fold a sheet of paper, but only a Folder trained in Folding can Fold a sheet of paper.
- Ciaphas Cain: When it first appeared, the shadowlight was a C'tan artifact always referred to in italics. In its second appearance, it was capitalized instead.
- In A Night in the Lonesome October, the narrator describes the vicar ranting about "Creatures of the Night and Unholy Practices and Living Blasphemies and Things Like That".
- Sci Fi Channel's miniseries The Lost Room is based around a series of about one hundred items called Objects that possess strange properties. Objects featured include The Key, The Pen, The Glass Eye and The Bus Ticket.
- Doesn't enter the above category for being a group instead of a race: Lost has the Others.
- The credits of Twin Peaks capitalize the entirety of the supernatural entities BOB and MIKE to differentiate them from the unrelated humans that have the same names.
- White Wolf seems to be in love with this trope, and any RPG they publish will have multiple instances of this. Aside from the Exalted examples already listed above, we have the Beast and Vitae from Vampire, the Wyrm, the Weaver, and the Wyld from Werewolf, the Second Breath and the Wyld again from Exalted, Legend, Fate, Knacks, Birthrights, and Scions from Scion, and numerous other examples.
- Lampshaded in the nWoD Mage: The Awakening rulebook intro:
"Note Important Capital Letters. Mages Use Lots Of Capital Letters."
- Lampshaded in the nWoD Mage: The Awakening rulebook intro:
- Geneforge: the Shapers create and modify living organisms by Shaping.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Anything written from the Old Ehlnofey language uses all capital letters. The Ehlnofey were the Precursor race to both Mer (Elves) and Men, descended from the pre-creation spirits themselves. Perhaps the most famous word is CHIM, the in-universe concept of Ascending to a Higher Plane of Existence where one becomes aware of the nature of Anu's Dream, but exists as one with it and maintains a sense of individuality. It is always capitalized as such.
- Concepts related to the Thu'um, such as "Voice" and "Shout" are capitalized regardless of their placement in a sentence to distinguish them from mundane speech.
- Oracle of Tao does a combination of science and magic, and pre-existing scientific terms are lowercase while that of Magic are uppercase. A magical portal joining two worlds is a Gate, the world of nonbeing is the Void, and Light and Darkness refer to balance of the two (and since it is Taoism-based, they are normally coupled). Then we have various scientific processes like cloning, which are lowercase for the mundane science, and capitalized for Cloning magic. Likewise, when referring to a light or dark room, these two are lowercase. There seem to some inconsistencies in this though...
- Supreme Commander"" has a fictional religion called, "The Way." So does (Gene Roddenberry's) Andromeda'', though it seems like theirs is based on/inspired by Taoism.
- The Super Mario Bros. powerups are always capitalized. It's not a mushroom, it's a Super Mushroom, it's not a fire flower, it's a Fire Flower, etc.
- Several of The Binding of Isaac's bosses, including The Haunt, The Hollow, The Husk, The Wretched, The Frail, The Stain, The Forsaken...
- In Cultist Simulator, stuff tied to the resident Eldritch Abominations and mystic principles tends to start with a capital letter - Lantern, Grail, Moth, the Mansus, the Wood, the Watchman.
- In ARMS, the titular allcaps word is used to refer to a mutation that gives people long, stretchy arms, a sport that revolves around boxing with said arms, and the various types of boxing gloves used in the sport, as opposed to regular, non-elastic arms.
- There's actually an American conspiracy theory built around this trope. The United States Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to it were written and ratified more than seventy-five years apart, during which time the trend towards capitalization of all nouns, regardless of their position in the sentence, fell out of use in American English. The theory claims that this change — specifically, the capitalization of the word "citizen" in the former but not the latter — was deliberate rather than just Antiquated Linguistics falling into disuse, and created two separate, legally distinct classes of citizenship. They also make a big deal about the DC Organic Act of 1871, passed soon after the Fourteenth Amendment, that reorganized the government of Washington, D.C.. From there, the theory claims that it's possible to attain "pre-Fourteenth Amendment" citizenship by filing special forms, granting all sorts of unique freedoms to the point of rendering a person a nation unto himself. Naturally, this isn't true; it's simply that in the 1860s and 70s, we had capitalization rules that were more or less the same as those we have today, while in the 1780s, there were no such rules, and English-speakers just put Capitals in the Oddest of Places.
- Capitals can have special meaning in the law...but only when the capitals are assigned to a definition. This is because capital letters are one of a few common methods of indicating that a word being used is supposed to be a proper noun referring to a specific thing, rather than a common noun referring to a class of things. To give some common examples (in America anyway):
- One of the most common uses is in contract drafting, where a lot of terms tend to be defined. For instance: When selling a business set up as a corporation, you can do it in two ways, asset sale and stock sale. In the latter, you just sell the stock; in the former, you sell everything the corporation owns to the buyer, with a few critical exceptions, leaving the corporation as a (hopefully) giant pile of money and not much else (when the sale is done, the owners typically dissolve the corporation and take the money and whatever else remains out in proportion to their shares). The reasons to pick one over the other don't concern us; just suffice it to say that asset sales are much more desirable than stock sales. Unfortunately, an asset sale means you're going to need to actually write a contract selling all this crap, and it would be tremendous pain to recite every time you referred to it. So instead of saying, say, "all the stuff TropeCo owns, except for this thing and that thing and the other thing and these things and the painting in the CEO's office" every time you refer to what's being sold, you just have a definitions section in which you say "'Assets' means all the stuff TropeCo owns, except for this thing and that thing and the other thing and these things and the painting in the CEO's office" and just use "Assets" (with a capital "A") ever afterward. This also means that you can talk about "assets" (with a small "a") in other contexts and be clear.
- Courts are wont to use Magic Capitals as well, generally using them for the same reasons. Classic ones are "Plaintiff" and "Defendant," being used in place of the actual names of the plaintiff and defendant in the case, because (1) people reading at home might forget who sued who, (2) sometimes litigants may share the same surname (as with in-family civil disputes or offenses), and (3) sometimes one or the other has a really long or complicated name (particularly when one, the other, or both is a corporation or government agency). The court will usually also define terms if something it would be useful to have shorthand for will appear often, and use capitals to indicate when a defined term is being used. For instance, if Alice sues the Bureau (a state government agency), Charlie and Donna (employees of the government agency), and Edward (a private contractor doing work for the Bureau), the Court may choose to group the Bureau, Charlie, and Donna as "the State Defendants" because they are the government and they might have different rules apply to them (e.g. sovereign immunity) and might have long sections devoted to what the law is respecting them. Also, the State Defendants (see what we did there?) are almost certainly all represented by the state's Attorney General's office, while Edward will have his own lawyer, so they may make different arguments; that means the court may need to address the State Defendants' arguments and those of Edward separately.
- American lawyers and judges will always capitalize the word "Court" whenever it refers to the United States Supreme Court, even if the full name is not being used. (Example: In United States v. Windsor [a US Supreme Court case], the Court held..." but "In Windsor v. United States [a trial court case], the court held..."). They may also capitalize it in reference to their state's highest court, but not always. Also, American lawyers have historically learned that they should always capitalize "court" when referring to the court that they are currently litigating in; i.e. if they write a brief in support of a motion, it should always be "Defendants request the Court to do x," etc.
- This habit is dying out a bit, with some courts dropping most of the capitalization, especially after Brian W. Garner, a leading guru on legal writing (and one of the few people who can say they were friends with both David Foster Wallace and Antonin Scalia), declared war on excessive capitalization in the late 1990s/early 2000. However, the legal profession is nothing if not conservative in its habits, and so capitalization persists elsewhere and isn't going anywhere in contract writing.
- The German language mostly averts this, by virtue of being the only major language to retain a orthographic convention languages like English used to have: All nouns begin with capital letters. There are thus no proper nouns and only very rarely does the capitalization of any given word mean a thing. However, psychological studies on reading comprehension indicate that the trope applies insofar as German (and even Danish or Dutch that ditched said convention centuries ago) becomes easier to read with the nouns - and only the nouns - capitalized.
- The French expression "l'Histoire avec un grand H" (History with a capital H) is used to refer to history as in big dramatic events like wars and empires, because the word also means story or tale when not duly capitalized.
- People draw a distinction between ideologies and the political parties that have appropriated the names of the ideologies. For example, there are "small-l libertarians" and "big-L Libertarians". Occasionally, there is a massive distinction between the party and the ideology from which it gets its name, so the capital makes a huge difference. Compare Republicans and republicans.