What the Meaning of “Is” Is

Posted in Whatever Else on May 8th, 2010 by bill


As mentioned in my last post, I picked up a copy of the Hold Steady’s latest CD at their show on Thursday. It’s a good album, and I am entirely satisfied with my purchase, except for one thing: On the front cover, the spine, and the disc the title is rendered as “Heaven is Whenever.”

This drives me batshit crazy. This is wrong.

Here’s the deal: In headline case, every word is capitalized unless it is an article, a conjunction, or a preposition. This is a simple and elegant rule and it has been in effect for hundreds of years; and yes, because this is English, there are a whole coterie of exceptions, but that’s not the point. The point is that whether a word is supposed to be capitalized depends on which part of speech it is, not how many letters are in it. “Is” is a verb, and gets the capital “I.” Always has, and the Lawd willing, always will. End of discussion.

Unfortunately, misunderstanding of this rule has become a widespread problem. I consider it emblematic of the general decline of American literacy. One of the major theater chains flashes a card before every movie to remind you to turn off your phone—it reads “Silence is Golden,” and every time I see it I want to scream. It makes me so tense that it ruins the first five minutes of the movie. So as a personal favor I want you, dear reader, to take a pledge to fight the scourge of the small “i” wherever you see it. Never surrender, never compromise. By any means necessary. Hallelujah.