‘i’ is a Cardinal Sin

I’ve just received one of the biggest shocks of my (online) life.

Let me clarify a little. I’ve been writing and posting and having exhilarating conversations on the internet for four years. At first it was just forums, discussing writing, theology, and code (I was learning CSS back then). Then I started blogging, writing about things that affected me personally as well as the little gems that make all our lives worth living.

So two days ago I posted a simple 9Rules Note, reading:

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but lately i’ve been forcing myself to capitalise my ‘i’s while posting in blogs other than my personal one. Do you write with a big I, or do you write like the ‘i’ like I did in my first sentence, where only the ‘i’ at the start of a sentence is capitalised?

Does it even matter online?

Within half a day there were 39 replies from various 9rules network members. It was frightening.

Gnorb said: Always capitalized. Always. Not seeing it capitalized (unless obviously accidental) almost always ensures that I never return to that site. I understand if grammar is not the writer’s strong suit — (s)he may not be a native English speaker — but not capitalizing the “I” is just plain lazy. Right up there with never capitalizing anything or capitalizing everything, all the time.

Phantomdata said: I enjoy people who believe that when posting online, all writing conventions fly out the window. Truly, I do. It provides for me a way to separate the idiots from those who have something worth saying. If you fail to capitalize or like to convert such simple words as “to” into “2”* then your laziness and recent discovery of the internet tell me to ignore you.

So, please continue failing at capitalization. Once the throngs of idiots learn to write, I will have to find a new way to filter them out.

* Outside of satire, of course. lulz.

Of the 39 replies (now 44, actually), only two supported the use of non-capitalized ‘i’s. Reasons given: “…’s pretty“. However, the vast majority relaxed the ‘Capitalise ‘I’. Always’ rule in informal settings such as in IM conversations, or IRC channel chats.

I was … perplexed, to say the least. Why was there such a big storm of opinion about something so seemingly insignificant? Perhaps my background in online writing (forums in the beginning, remember?) and treating my personal blog as an informal medium for my thoughts led to this habit of mine to miss hitting the shift key. On paper I write just the way I was taught: with capitalised ‘I’s and complete, whole words.

The impression I got of ‘Capitalise your ‘I’s, because this is English’ made me think twice. To me reading a non-capitalised ‘i’ online wasn’t as bad a mistake as mixing up ‘affect’ with ‘effect’, or typing ‘thought’ as ‘tot’. Those words make an otherwise professional-sounding article seem amateurish, since readers have to replace the abbreviations mentally while reading and this interrupts the flow of ideas.

‘I’ on the other hand, seemed to me to be a lesser evil – forgivable in the online world. I didn’t need to mentally replace it with its capitalized big brother while reading, and it doesn’t jar the progression of thoughts in an essay because it is spelt correctly.

Imagine my shock when I learned how the vast majority of 9Rulers felt.

But I have learned something from this 9Rules note. My perception of the usage of ‘i’ in online blog posts, articles and conversations reflects my perception of the web: informal and fun, a place to reach out and connect. I admit that my fiction offline is in proper English – when I digitize it all the ‘I’s in it shrink.

So here I am, typing in proper English. I’ve had to reread this post quite a few times to make sure everything was capitalised, and am currently in the process of retraining my fingers to hit shift at all the right places. If 42 replies from a blogging network famed for quality content tells me that uncapitalised ‘Is’ in online writing is a cardinal sin, what am I to do but to take heed and listen? And if you write online fiction, and you’re reading this, then I suppose you should take heed too.

John Baker said (tongue in cheek): sometimes use them sometimes dont if i cant be bothered or its just a note or if for example i know its really going to get up someones nose because their world is so small theyd rather miss the content than struggle all the way through the metamorphosis of i to I or i can use the little i as a filter on my blog to make sure its only read by people capable of a tiny bit of flexibility and not contaminated by the kind of non-consciousness that gives a shit about hitting the shift key and i feel exactly the same about commas and periods and ive never used an ! in my life until now

And that, my friends, is why we need grammar. I shall now exercise my right to a rare informal abbreviation and say: lol.

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Category: Writing