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Friday, October 16, 2009

Capital, my good fellow! (Must say with British accent while picturing a Charles Dicken's character.)

So, the other day while writing a post I mentioned that the caramel apple spice from Starbucks is Delectable with a capital D. I had to surf on over to dictionary.com to make sure that I had used the right spelling of capital. I have to check dictionary.com on about 90% of all of the words 4 letters and over that I ever write.

Anyways, I have thought for many years that capital referred to letters and capitol referred to the capital city. But when I looked up the definition of capital I saw that it referrers to both capital letters and the capital city, among other things. So I wondered, when does one use capitol? So, I looked it up. Turns out capitol has a very specific meaning:

1. the building in Washington, D.C., used by the Congress of the U.S. for its sessions.
2. (often lowercase) a building occupied by a state legislature.
3. the ancient temple of Jupiter at Rome, on the Capitoline.
4. the Capitoline.

So, Capitol only refers to a building where the congress meets. More specifically it seems to refer mostly to the buildings in D.C. where the American government convenes, or the Capitoline in Rome.

I didn't know that that word only referred to a building. Is that not ridiculous? Who thought of that? It's as if someone, perhaps the architect of the capitol building, was like "We need a separate word for this. It's that special! This building musn't be confused with capital letters, the capital city or monetary capital! Capitol! That's the solution. One letter off, different enough to make no sense at all!"

The distinction between those words is even sillier than I had originally thought. Or perhaps the exquisite nuances of the English language are just lost on me. That's definitely possible.

P.S. Upon further inquiry, I ran across this note on dictionary.com the word "capitol is from the Roman Capitoline Hill and the similarity between capitol and capital is purely coincidental; capitol applies to the building and capital to the seat of a government."

So perhaps there wasn't a self-aggrandizing architect involved. But it's still a silly distinction, in my humble opinion. One that will throw many a kindergartner (and possibly a few 26 year olds) off forevermore.

1 comment:

Vanessa Rogers said...

I would have never had noticed the difference, but of course, I am the worlds most creative speller anyways, so I could have lots of other ways to spell those two words. :)