Why capitalize university?

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Cloy:
I tend to think the arbitrary capitalization of university when referring to a particular institution is silly and pretentious. (I understand that university would be capitlized at the beginning of a sentence or in the formal name of the school.)
However, the rule still appears in the style guides of many university communications/PR departments. In some cases, the rule only applies to the university in question, and not to any other. For example, the Cornell Daily Sun style guide says, "Capitalize 'University' when it applies to Cornell, but not when it applies to any other university."

Can anyone offer come history on this practice? It seems to be fading, but it's still so common that I have to think it has some historical / philosophical basis besides widespread self-aggrandizement.

Thanks, in advance.
-Cloy
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Dominic Bojarski:
[nq:1]I tend to think the arbitrary capitalization of university when referring to a particular institution is silly and pretentious. (I ... common that I have to think it has some historical / philosophical basis besides widespread self-aggrandizement. Thanks, in advance. -Cloy[/nq]
It's capitalized because it is a short form of the full name of the particular university, which is written in capital letters. It not capitalized when referring to the university in a generic way.

For example, in a press release by the University of Bologna, you might see the sentence "the University is the oldest university in the world". The first is capitalized because it is short for "University (of Bologna)". It is not necessary to write "Bologna" every time because it is understood which university is meant. This is and always has been standard practice. It is not arbitrary, and there is no self- aggrandizement intended. The Cornell style guide is correct in result, but misleading in philosophy. I see why you go the wrong idea. If other universities are mention by name, the "University" in their name is likewise capitalized. If they are mentioned in a generic way, the word is not capitalized. The thing that confused you is that other universities are never referred to using the word "University" alone.

I just checked the Wikipedia article on the University of Bologna. Here are some sentences illustrating the practice:

The University of Bologna is the oldest continually operating degree- granting university in the world, and the second largest university in Italy. The University of Bologna was the first university founded in the western world. Nowadays, the University counts about 100,000 students in its 23 faculties. The institution that we today call the University began to take shape in Bologna at the end of the 11th century.
Unlike you, I don't think the practice is fading.
Dominic Bojarski
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athel...@yahoo:
( lots of sensible comments, to which I would add: )

The practice is in no way restricted to universities, but applies to many entities where one has to distinguish between specific and generic instances:
In this article Figure 1 is the only figure that requires copyright clearance.
Note that Table 5 will need to be printed sideways, but all the other tables are narrow enough to be printed upright.
The Constitution of the USA is the oldest constitution of any country.

(I'm not sure if this statement is true, but that's not the point.)

athel
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Mark Brader:
[nq:1]The practice is in no way restricted to universities, but applies to many entities where one has to distinguish between ... is the oldest constitution of any country. (I'm not sure if this statement is true, but that's not the point.)[/nq]
However, what Dominic wrote was:
[nq:2]It's capitalized because it is a short form of the ... capitalized when referring to the university in a generic way.[/nq]
Short form. For Athel's examples to be examples of what this thread is about, they would have to read "The Figure is the only...", "the Table will need..." and "the Constitution is the oldest".

It certainly is true that the practice extends beyond universities, but it does not extend to things like tables and figures. It does, however, extend to organizations, laws, high positions of authority, and probably some other cases I haven't thought of.

Thus "the Queen" can mean Queen Elizabeth II, "the Prime Minister" can mean Stephen Harper, "the Corporation" can mean the particular corporation in whose documents the phrase appears, "the Act" can mean the act of Parliament relating to the subject under discussion, and for that matter, "Parliament" can mean the Parliament of Canada. In all cases the capitalized word can be seen as a short form of the relevant full name or title, and it's supposed to be obvious which full name or title is applicable.

Mark Brader, Toronto > "Pleasant dreams!"
(Email Removed) > "I'll dream of Canada." THE SUSPECT

My text in this article is in the public domain.
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mm:
[nq:1]I tend to think the arbitrary capitalization of university when referring to a particular institution is silly and pretentious. (I ... so common that I have to think it has some historical / philosophical basis besides widespread self-aggrandizement. Thanks, in advance.[/nq]
I agree with Dominic and Athel.
But I also am not surprised your concerned. There is now a spate of capitalizatoin of words that don't deserve it. I'll bet you've noticed this and this is just the first case where you found a rule in print where you didn't see the basis. Like I say, I think the basis here is ok, but not in some other cases. If I think of examples I'll post again, but maybe you or others have them.
[nq:1]-Cloy[/nq]
If you are inclined to email me
for some reason, remove NOPSAM :-)
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UC:
[nq:2]The practice is in no way restricted to universities, but ... if this statement is true, but that's not the point.)[/nq]
[nq:1]However, what Dominic wrote was: Short form. For Athel's examples to be examples of what this thread is about, they ... m...@vex.net > "I'll dream of Canada." THE SUSPECT My text in this article is in the public domain.[/nq]
Figure 1, Pier 1 (of a bridge), the figures, the piers..
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Mike Lyle:
[nq:1]I tend to think the arbitrary capitalization of university when referring to a particular institution is silly and pretentious. (I ... but it's still so common that I have to think it has some historical / philosophical basis besides widespread self-aggrandizement.[/nq]
It's got nothing to do with "self-aggrandizement", and everything to do with clarity. Compare usage in the cases of "president/President" and "navy/Navy", among many others. It does seem to be fading, but that's because semi-literate "designers" wield a lot of power these days: they don't like capital letters, and they don't like punctuation marks - particularly question marks. I'm hoping the United States will save us from ourselves in this matter: it'll go some way toward making amends for the reintroduction of the subjunctive.

Mike.

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Cloy:
Dominic,
Thanks for your response. See my comments below.
[nq:1]It's capitalized because it is a short form of the full name of the particular university, which is written in capital letters. It not capitalized when referring to the university in a generic way.[/nq]
But we typically don't do the same for other things. Not sure where you're located, but in American English we would not write, "When I arrived at Bob's Hardware Store, the Store was filled with smoke," or "When I drove down Main Street, the Street was flooded."

Other than "University," I don't know of any other common noun that is regularly capitalized just because it is part of a proper name. (Okay, AP Style says to capitalize Web when used in reference to the World Wide Web... but that's a little different scenario.)
[nq:1]For example, in a press release by the University of Bologna, you might see the sentence "the University is the ... institution that we today call the University began to take shape in Bologna at the end of the 11th century.[/nq]
Not sure if Wikipedia is an authoritative source on this.
[nq:1]Unlike you, I don't think the practice is fading.[/nq]
Try "capitalize university" in Google you'll find quite a few universities no longer practicing this and some that still do. The Web site for the University of Colorado at Boulder notes the following, which implies that the practice is not "logically defensible":

"Every current, reputable style guide that we are aware of (including The Chicago Manual of Style,which tends to use more capitals than AP newspaper style) promotes the general rule that subsequent references to proper nouns that use a part of that proper noun (such as street, hotel, building, company, university, association,etc.) are not capitalized. Because we write within an academic setting, our readers have a right to expect us to choose a writing style that is clear, intelligent, and logically defensible-as far as the latter is possible given the vagaries of the English language."
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Cloy:
Thanks for your response, athel. See my responses below.
[nq:1]The practice is in no way restricted to universities, but applies to many entities where one has to distinguish between ... Table 5 will need to be printed sideways, but all the other tables are narrow enough to be printed upright.[/nq]
Not sure if I would capitalize "Figure 1" or "Table 5" at all, but in this instance these are the full names, so the example doesn't apply.
[nq:1]The Constitution of the USA is the oldest constitution of any country.[/nq]
Point taken but this practice seems limited to this one instance. A state or organizational constitution would not be arbitrarily capitalized.
Excelsior! -Cloy
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