January 19th, 2005
A troop? / More about caps after colons
by Barbara Wallraff
Patricia Foley, of Midland, Mich., writes: “I have noted recent newspaper headlines such as ‘Nine troops killed in Iraq.’ This obviously refers to nine individuals. Why, then, isn’t a single casualty called a ‘troop’?”
Dear Patricia: Gosh, I wish that headline read more like “Nine troops awarded medals for their peacekeeping work.” But that’s not what you’re asking about. As you suggest, it’s illogical to put a number before “troops” and expect the phrase to mean that many people. Any dictionary will tell you that a “troop” in the military sense is a unit or group. So “nine troops” ought to be nine military units.
Michael P. Warr, of Stonington, Maine, writes: “Although I was born, raised and educated in Britain, I have been living in America since 1966. Over the years I have become somewhat inured to the corruption of my native language in this country, but I am far from indifferent. I was therefore appalled at your attempt, in a recent column, to justify the use of a capital letter following a colon. This is, quite frankly, a load of revisionist twaddle! A period -- or full stop, as we say in Britain -- denotes the end of a sentence; and as a capital letter is only used to begin a new sentence, it is only permissible after a period.”
Dear Michael: Excuse me? “Revisionist twaddle”? But I was arguing in favor of standard British practice, while acknowledging that standard American practice is slightly different. The Oxford Style Manual, from England’s Oxford University Press, sums up part of both standards like this: “Use the colon to introduce a list. ... Follow it with a capital letter only if the list comprises proper names, or more than one (in US English any grammatically complete) sentence.”
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