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Our Capital Sun

Our Capital Sun

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A letter to the AP style editor on capitalization of heavenly bodies
A letter to the AP style editor on capitalization of heavenly bodies

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: David Arthur Walters on Jun 27, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Our Capital Sun

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December 31, 1999 Stylebook Editor THE ASSOCIATED PRESS In Re: Our Capital Sun Dear Sir: I reference this communication to our "capital Sun" in the sense that the Sun is "highly important" as the "head" of our solar system, as well as the "principal" sustainer and destroyer of life on Earth. Yet I observe, in an Associated Press article entitled 'Near-star planet discovery "exciting"', published August 5, 2000, that the proper name 'Sun' is not capitalized. I quote the first two paragraphs of that article as follows: A Jupiter-sized planet orbiting a young star in Earth's 'back yard' could help reveal whether Earth, with its variety of life forms, is a unique jewel in the universe. William Cochran of University of Texas' McDonald Observatory said that finding a planet orbiting Episilon Eridani, 'a star very similar to our sun (sic) ...is like finding a planet in our own back yard - relatively speaking.' As you may know, I have on a prior occasion objected to the Associated Press' irrational and irregular method of capitalization in respect to the Earth, Sun, and Moon - and someday I might add 'Universe', the proper name of the Universe. The AP method capitalizes the proper name of our planet, 'Earth', but does not capitalize the name of our satellite, 'Moon', or the name of our star, 'Sun', even in astronomical articles - as is recommended by Webster's International Dictionary and the Chicago Manual of Style. I do not accept AP's standard explanation, that it merely follows the conventional standard. The truth of the matter is this: your organization is greatly responsible for setting the standard it wrongly attributes to the American public; that is an insult to the American intelligence - the British publication of the article in question appeared with the names of the heavenly bodies properly capitalized.

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The AP guideline mentions the Webster's and Chicago Manual standard; indeed, that caused me to wonder why Associated Press does not use that standard as a matter of course in astronomical articles. That procedure would be logical and would give all due respect to scientists heretofore misquoted simply because the editors used the AP guideline and chopped the upper case down to the lower case; it would also protect good grammar and the dignity of the heavenly bodies. Perhaps you are familiar with the works of the astrophysicist Jean-Claude Pecker, particular with his fascinating book, The Future of the Sun. Dominque Lecourt wrote a concise and fascinating introduction to Pecker's little book, pointing out that Diderot's and d'Alembert's Encyclopedie described the Sun as "the first object of idolatry." Lecourt writes: The Sun: symbol of power and omniscience, dispenser of life, agent of death too, a being of flesh and blood... The Sun thus holds us with untold subconscious bonds. And the poets have constantly been drawn toward this being associated with such violent symbols, though with infinite precautions. It takes the boldness of Victor Hugo to dream of its extinction: The Sun was there dying in the abyss. The star hidden by the mist, without air to revive it, Was growing cold, bleak and slowly fading away. In following the chronicle, marvelously traced by Jean-Claude Pecker, of today's portended death of the Sun, it will be seen that it hardly conforms to the prophecies of the 'Death of Satan.' Here the cold is not a sign of death! But the knowledge acquired does not extinguish the flame of the poets, quite the contrary. Witness the fanciful verse of Andre Verdet: Every star captures in reverie A Sun in its essence. Please note well the capitalization of the name 'Sun' in poetry, for another common editorial offense is the failure, even against the poet's wishes, to
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capitalize 'Sun' in poetry. Of course, artistic license provides the poet with the privilege of the degrading lower case; however, with editorial interference, we never know the artist's intentions - does he wish to insult the Moon when we see 'moon'? The Moon motivates me to observe that Jean-Claude Pecker the scientist did not write his treatise as a divine poem, although he and many other scientists interested in the Sun have literally bowed down to it during the course of their professional lives. Although they seek the scientific truth about the Universe, this does not stop them from marveling at the Creation, the object of their study, nor does it prevent them from capitalizing the word 'Sun" as a proper noun. For example, Pecker states: Once it was accepted that the Sun is a star (a star whose proper name is Sun), it became necessary to resolve the question of the origin of its radiation. Even Pecker cannot resist the use of romantic metaphors: Learning about the burning heart of the Sun, the layers of its atmosphere and the wind that perpetually snatches matter from it means opening a window of knowledge of the other stars. Indeed, starting with, 'The burning Heart of the Sun,' a rather wonderful poem could be composed with the remainder. Returning to Earth, humankind once clung to the idea that our Earth is unique and is, relatively speaking, the center of the Universe. Hence the proper noun remains capitalized. Fine, I do not object. Yet, despite that prejudice in favor of our centralization, we have provided for intelligent life on other planets - the idea appears in ancient religion and in modern science fiction. In fact, common sense recognizes the possibility even of human or humanoid existence on many other planets, which would have, then, their own proper names. Moreover, to be consistent, Associated Press should speak in its article of "other earths", but that would be absurd, for 'Earth' is simply the beloved name of our planet.
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Furthermore, instead of writing, "a star very similar to our own sun (sic)....", I believe Mr. Cochran, would more properly state: "a star similar to the Sun...." And perhaps he did, but how shall we know, given Associated Press' abuse of the heavenly bodies? Yes, I know that one might use "Sun" metaphorically, as "many suns", but I believe that, strictly speaking, the lower case would be improper and is in fact a corruption. There are many Norman Goldsteins in the worlds, not many norman goldsteins. No matter how many Goldsteins and Joneses, Topekas and Atlantas, Suns and Moons, Universes and Gods there might be, I believe that, in your capacity as Stylebook Editor, you will not think the subject I have raised is unworthy of your regard and response. Finally, with all due respect for your office, I ask you to amend the AP Stylebook in order to bring it into accord with a consistent principle of grammar, supported by the best rhetoric, dialectic, and philosophy presently available. Sincerely, David Arthur Walters

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