Monday, April 30, 2007

Why do i write 'i'?

As a general rule, i try to write using standard textbook English. So i use the male pronouns he, him or his rather than the inclusive but clumsy he/she, him/her, his/her, and the standard 'man' rather than 'humankind'. Moreover, i try to construct my sentences in a fairly standard manner, keeping in mind, for example, that a preposition is not a proper word type to end a sentence with. And that it's usually bad form to start a sentence with a conjunction. I likewise do my best to never split an infinitive. Not that i don't occasionally slip up inadvertently, but you get the idea.

But i have deliberately broken one rule of standard English, namely, spelling the word 'i' without capitalizing it (except when it begins a sentence). Why? I'll tell you why:

The better question would be why would i capitalize the nominative case of the first person singular pronoun? I don't capitalize other pronouns like 'me' 'we' 'she' 'you' 'they', etc. It's not a proper name. Other languages don't capitalize its equivalent ('yo' in Spanish, 'io' in Italian, etc.). Why does written English single this pronoun out as something special? Do we have a collective tendency toward narcissism? Might this subconsciously be the root cause for the Me generation complex? You might say that the unorthodox uncapitalized form not only makes more sense, but is a small attempt to de-emphasize self, to deliberately counter the 'me first' tendency implied by standard English.

The idea was first proposed to me by the folks at Miles Jesu, a small and humble lay religious order personally known to me in Chicago. In all their writings, they employed the lower case 'i', for pretty much the same reasons as i have just offered. (See this article, for one example.)

But now i see that, in their recent writings, these people have reverted to standard English. (See this article, for a more recent example.) I don't see an explanation for this, but i can guess that their reasons for reverting might go something like this:

The unorthodox approach may be well-intended, but mostly ineffective, and even more of a distraction than anything else. Words are meant to convey a meaning, and if the words draw attention to themselves by such non-standard usage, they lose their effectiveness. It could even be argued that such unorthodox writing style draws undue attention to the writer, an ironic defeat of the original intent to diminish self!

So, after giving this some thought, i think i'm ready for a personal compromise. I still reserve the right to spell the word 'i' as lower case in my personal notes and correspondence, but starting right now, I will revert to standard upper-case in my published writings, for the sake of clarity. This little crusade was fun, but rather pointless, if you know what I mean. The I's have it.

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