Is the state capitol spelled "capitol" or "capital"?
April 30, 2006 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Is the state capitol spelled "capitol" or "capital"?

I live in DC where I've always thought of it spelled as "capitol" as that meant "seat of power", and that "capital" was generally meant as money. Like in Das Kapital. After seeing a few local places spell it as "capital", I looked it up in a few dictionaries that point out that "capitol" is only for DC and that "capital" can mean money, state seat of power, or the top of a column. Is that right? Seems confusing.
posted by destro to Law & Government (28 answers total)
 
"State capitol" has twice the google results.
posted by Jairus at 6:44 AM on April 30, 2006


The capital is the town, the capitol is the actual buildings.

dictionary.reference.com cites, "The term for a town or city that serves as a seat of government is spelled capital. The term for the building in which a legislative assembly meets is spelled capitol."
posted by vanoakenfold at 6:45 AM on April 30, 2006


Capital comes from the Latin word caput, meaning head. Capitol comes from the Latin term Capitolinus Mons (aka the Capitoline Hill), which was the epicenter of Roman political life. Thus the thing in DC is the capitol.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:46 AM on April 30, 2006


vanoakenfold has it right. Washington is the nation's capital, and the capitol building is where Congress meets. Similarly, Charleston, WV, is the capital city of that state, and the state legislature meets in the state capitol building located there.
posted by arco at 7:01 AM on April 30, 2006


Here's how to remember which is which: the capitol has a dome.
posted by gleuschk at 7:03 AM on April 30, 2006


So the capitol sits in the capital? That's confusing. Who's the genius responsible for naming these things?
posted by destro at 7:50 AM on April 30, 2006


So the capitol sits in the capital? That's confusing. Who's the genius responsible for naming these things?

That's the English language for you.
posted by macdara at 8:13 AM on April 30, 2006


I learned way back in school that the Capitol building is the ONLY word/reference spelled with an O. Everything else in the whole language is with an A. And like gleuschk said, its easy to remember that the Capitol has a dome, or maybe the Capitol has an idiot, natch.
posted by Chuck Cheeze at 10:09 AM on April 30, 2006


So the capitol sits in the capital? That's confusing. Who's the genius responsible for naming these things?

Would it be any less confusing the other way around? That's just the way it is. The building in D.C. and in every state in the country is the capitol (well, more frequently Capitol) and the city in which you'll find that building is the capital.
posted by emelenjr at 3:15 PM on April 30, 2006


I remember hearing a mnemonic device when I was a kid: "The capital building is tall, T-A-L." Took me years to learn that that was wrong, W-R-O-N-G. I simply remember the difference now, but the dome thing is a good one.
posted by diddlegnome at 3:36 PM on April 30, 2006


"Capitol" has a capital C.
posted by flabdablet at 7:13 PM on April 30, 2006


So the capitol sits in the capital? That's confusing. Who's the genius responsible for naming these things?

Oh, the same folks who decided that theatre is performed in a theater.
posted by pineapple at 8:43 PM on April 30, 2006


I learned way back in school that the Capitol building is the ONLY word/reference spelled with an O. Everything else in the whole language is with an A.

A'va raad thas avar and avar agaan bat A jast kaap gattang mara and mara canfasad.
posted by mendel at 8:46 PM on April 30, 2006


I learned way back in school that the Capitol building is the ONLY word/reference spelled with an O. Everything else in the whole language is with an A.

I learned that too, but it's wrong. Where proper nouns are concerned, all bets are off. The part of Seattle where the recent shootings occurred is Capitol Hill. You can retroactively argue with whoever named it that way, if you like, but you won't accomplish anything. Capitol Hill is what the neighborhood is called.
posted by bingo at 9:12 PM on April 30, 2006


Oh, the same folks who decided that theatre is performed in a theater.

I'm Australian, so my understanding of British english might be wrong, but in Britain, isn't the building also called the theatre, and it only the yanks that feel everything (meter, theater etc) should end er instead of re?? If so, why is the American term for the performance spelt with re?
posted by ranglin at 12:47 AM on May 1, 2006


Oh, the same folks who decided that theatre is performed in a theater.

I've never heard that. I always saw theatre as the fancy/British spelling. But then, I also pronounce it "wrong" :)
posted by dagnyscott at 5:42 AM on May 1, 2006


Oh, the same folks who decided that theatre is performed in a theater.

That's ridiculous. There is no form of English in which the spellings are used for different meanings. Theater is US, theatre is UK (and whoever else uses the UK spelling). Please don't invent misinformation; there's enough of it out there already.
posted by languagehat at 5:49 AM on May 1, 2006


Theater is US

What? List of New York Theatres and Yale University Theater Studies guide.
posted by alasdair at 9:01 AM on May 1, 2006


languagehat, your need for linguistic pedantry seems to be quite... emphatic, but you can't put the responsibility for "inventing misinformation" on me. All I've done is wryly repeat said misinformation here -- sorry that you misunderstood my tone.

Your umbrage might be better directed at the hundreds of American fine arts authorities and university programs who use "theatre" in the manner I suggested, including one frequently mentioned as the best undergraduate drama program in the country.
posted by pineapple at 9:18 AM on May 1, 2006


Alasdair: You're making languagehat's point, not pineapple's. Pineapple said that in the US, "theatre" was the art and "theater" the building, but you linked to a website that lists "theatre" buildings and a website about the "theater" art, completely backwards from what was proposed.

It's not that remarkable that some Americans, especially at universities, use the British spelling, but it would be remarkable if they were making the distinction between the art and the building that pineapple mentioned. But they're not making that distinction, which is what languagehat took exception to.

pineapple: The Carnegie example you linked to is just plain inconsistent. There is no meaning conveyed by -re or -er in English; they're just alternative spellings of one word, like color/colour, tire/tyre and check/cheque. Languagehat is correct. It would've taken you thirty seconds to verify your answer before posting it, so the umbrage ought not to be surprising.
posted by mendel at 9:43 AM on May 1, 2006


There is no meaning conveyed by -re or -er in English; they're just alternative spellings of one word, like color/colour, tire/tyre and check/cheque. Languagehat is correct.

And yet, actual tenured professors in theatXX arts have represented otherwise to me, so obviously, there is alternate meaning out there. Whether that alternate meaning is proper isn't the issue here, nor has that been claimed by me. Nor is the issue whether languagehat is correct about proper usage.

But this blanket statement: "There is no form of English in which the spellings are used for different meanings" is silly, and conveniently, can't be proved in this case. mendel, none of those entities I linked demonstrate any indicators one way or the other that they have chosen "-re" because it's British-y, versus because there is a misconception among some Americans that "theatre" is the study and "theater" is the building. I can acknowledge that it might be either... but that you found a dictionary online doesn't demonstrate the intentions of the organizations in questions.

Further, languagehat's implication that American English is some sort of hard and fast code -- instead of an organic amalgam with boundaries that are gray at best -- might be wishful thinking, but it's certainly not realistic. And his/her suggestion that I am the inventor of the mix-up is histrionic (which happens to be etymologically funny and oh-so-appropriate).

It would've taken you thirty seconds to verify your answer before posting it, so the umbrage ought not to be surprising.

There is no "verification" to be had as you allege (despite the overwhelming evidential value of a Photoshopped screenshot). The umbrage isn't surprising, really -- just sort of tiresome. Which word is right doesn't matter in this case; the continued prissy declaration of unmitigated linguistic authority does.
posted by pineapple at 11:28 AM on May 1, 2006


It's nothing to do with "unmitigated linguistic authority". You just provided wrong information on AskMe, someone called you on it, and now you're embarrassed. Just research your answers first and support them when you post them and you're done.
posted by mendel at 12:51 PM on May 1, 2006


"Provided wrong information on AskMe" is one way to look at it.

"Replied to a sarcastic comment about the genius of capitol/capital with a retort (not some sort of statement of fact or declaration, mind you) about theatre/theater is another"... which I was then accused of somehow coining?

I would say the overreaction by languagehat is the embarrassment here; two other people managed to politely disagree with the theater/theatre notion... without getting all huffy over it. Yet, he/she couldn't disagree with the post without insulting the poster.

Also, if a screenshot with some squiggles on it is what passes for "research" these days, then I'd posit that a joke about American English is the very least of our concerns about the quality of information on AskMe.
posted by pineapple at 3:07 PM on May 1, 2006


Generally speaking, theater is the American spelling, and theatre is the British spelling. However, some Americans use theatre anyway. The idea is to 'protect' the terminology. For example, if you're in the US and you see a building labeled 'theatre' or a personals ad that says 'I'm interested in theatre,' then you know that chances are very good that the reference has nothing to do with movies. Therefore, to Americans who take the art of the stage very seriously, 'theatre' is often a flag they raise to let each other know they're legit (so to speak). Naturally, this is going to include the names of programs at universities.

I feel funny defending languagehat, but his answer in this case was concise and true. Could he be certain that pineapple was the first person in the history of the human race to come up with the notion that "theatre is performed in a theater"? Obviously not. On the other hand, could he be certain that there are a miniscule, if any, number of people who actually believe in that distinction? Well, yes. And would it be unreasonable for him to take a slightly greater liberty and suppose that the people who follow such a credo live entirely in your imagination? Not at all.

pineapple, there may well be people you know who believe that theatre is performed in a theater. I doubt it, but it may be true. But if it is, then those people represent such a miniscule portion of the population that they might as well not exist. And, in fact, they probably don't. You probably saw a few uses of theater/theater, consciously or subconsciously came up with the idea that the philosophy at work must be "theatre is performed in a theater," and never bothered to look very hard into whether this was actually the case. This sort of conjecture is not a mortal sin, but neither is it everyone else's duty to coddle you in your ignorance.
posted by bingo at 3:34 PM on May 1, 2006


Thanks, bingo.

pineapple, I'm not sure why you're taking it so personally and getting so wrought up, but believe me, I can be much harsher than that, and it's nothing to do with you—I just hate seeing misinformation about language peddled, and you were peddling it. Instead of continuing to defend the indefensible, I suggest you back off and resolve to double-check things before posting them as answers. That's what I do.
posted by languagehat at 4:45 PM on May 1, 2006


Capitol Hill is presumably the hill that the Capitol is on (or was intended to be on at some stage, if there is no Capitol on it now).
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 PM on May 1, 2006


Yeah, well...there is no Capitol on Capitol Hill (Seattle), and never has been. Some say that it was hoped for at one point, others say that the area was simply named after Capitol Hill of Denver.

Regardless, the point is that when it comes to proper nouns, just about anything goes. If the person who owns the land wants to call the neighborhood President George W. Bush, he can. It's weird, but there are no linguistic rules preventing it. Similarly, a neighborhood could be called Happeee Playce, and that would be legitimate too. So if the state government wants to change the name the city from which they legislate to The Capitol, they can, and that will then become the way to spell the name of the city. But it will still be the capital, not the Capitol, even if it is The Capitol.
posted by bingo at 11:26 PM on May 1, 2006


Forgive me, I'll be clearer.

US English clearly uses both theatre/er, as shown in the links I and others posted. languagehat's statement that -er is exclusively US and -re is exclusively British is therefore clearly wrong. This is what I sought to correct. My apologies, languagehat, if I was rude: I thought my response was in keeping with your post.

bingo provides more details of different usage. Gentle reader, if your American professor spells theatre with -re, I would advise against proclaiming that he was incorrect and the correct US usage was always -er.
posted by alasdair at 5:58 AM on May 2, 2006


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