Capital letters for imaginary species?

Toby Frost

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Jan 22, 2008
Messages
6,564
Bit of a niche question, this. In a story I'm working on, there is a group of creatures referred to as "noxi" (it's Latin for "criminals" or "evildoers", I gather). They are not humans but once were, so I think I would put them in the same class as dragons, elves and so on, which wouldn't usually have a capital. My feeling is that they shouldn't get a capital letter when mentioned in the text. I think they technically could be italicised, since I'm using a foreign word, but I don't want to do that as it feels like I'm drawing too much attention to it.

Does that sound right?
 

Justin Swanton

Loving the view from up here.
Supporter
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
741
Location
Durban, South Africa
Personally I would put them into a sub-class of humans and capitalize the name in the same way Romans or Germans are capitalised. Tolkien interesting capitalizes the name of a race when used collectively, but not when applied to an individual:

Of these things Frodo had already heard many rumours; but the tale of Glóin was new to him, and when the dwarf spoke he listened attentively. It appeared that amid the splendour of their works of hand the hearts of the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain were troubled.

BTW 'noxi' is plural. Applied to an individual it would be a 'noxus', and you want to be a perfectionist, a 'noxa' when referring to a female. Of course if the noxi are asexual better to refer to them as the 'noxa' collectively and a 'noxum' when referring to an individual. Just sayin'. ;-)
 

tinkerdan

∞<Q-Satis
Joined
Dec 10, 2012
Messages
5,244
Location
x² + y² = r²:when x~∞
BTW 'noxi' is plural. Applied to an individual it would be a 'noxus', and you want to be a perfectionist, a 'noxa' when referring to a female. Of course if the noxi are asexual better to refer to them as the 'noxa' collectively and a 'noxum' when referring to an individual. Just sayin'. ;-)
I've even come up with all things pertaining to noxi which...well the whole thing just makes me noxious.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,080
Of these things Frodo had already heard many rumours; but the tale of Glóin was new to him, and when the dwarf spoke he listened attentively. It appeared that amid the splendour of their works of hand the hearts of the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain were troubled.
Interesting example but it may not be accurate as I think Tolkien was clear that the plural was meant to be dwarfs (fs) and admitted making mistakes in his own work. If that was wrong, then the capitalisation may have been as well.

Although, it makes sense in that context as he is referring to a specific group rather than the race as a whole. I think it should be lowercase unless referencing some hieratical structure or distinct group. So not in the mere reference to race.
 

Justin Swanton

Loving the view from up here.
Supporter
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
741
Location
Durban, South Africa
Interesting example but it may not be accurate as I think Tolkien was clear that the plural was meant to be dwarfs (fs) and admitted making mistakes in his own work. If that was wrong, then the capitalisation may have been as well.

I think it should be lowercase unless referencing some hieratical structure or distinct group. So not in the mere reference to race.
Tolkien deliberately chose 'dwarves' as the plural of dwarf since it suited his linguistic ear better - 'elves' being the plural of 'elf'. If anyone was an expert on language it would be him. But language is an art, not a science, so a lot of its conventions depend on what is currently popular, which would include the subject matter of this thread.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,080
Tolkien deliberately chose 'dwarves' as the plural of dwarf since it suited his linguistic ear better - 'elves' being the plural of 'elf'. If anyone was an expert on language it would be him. But language is an art, not a science, so a lot of its conventions depend on what is currently popular, which would include the subject matter of this thread.
That's a weird one as I've read that
In a foreword to The Hobbit, published in 1937, J R R Tolkien writes: "In English, the only correct plural of 'dwarf' is 'dwarfs' and the adjective is 'dwarfish'. In this story 'dwarves' and 'dwarvish' are used, but only when speaking of the ancient people to whom Thorin Oakenshield and his companions belonged."
 

Justin Swanton

Loving the view from up here.
Supporter
Joined
Aug 18, 2015
Messages
741
Location
Durban, South Africa
That's a weird one as I've read that
In a foreword to The Hobbit, published in 1937, J R R Tolkien writes: "In English, the only correct plural of 'dwarf' is 'dwarfs' and the adjective is 'dwarfish'. In this story 'dwarves' and 'dwarvish' are used, but only when speaking of the ancient people to whom Thorin Oakenshield and his companions belonged."
Exactly. He preferred using that plural as it suited him better.
 

.matthew.

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 12, 2020
Messages
1,080
Heh. Well, I just had a look through an old copy and he uses lowercase for dwarves, lowercase for elves, and upper case for Wood-elves.

He also uses lowercase for black squirrels, which might not be relevant but I assume the black squirrels were a type of squirrel, like red or grey rather than just a variation of a more common type.
 

THX1138

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 2022
Messages
176
Location
Land Locked Ocean Dream
I'm in the same boat as you, Mine are called Ratagens.
So going off of what seems to be Tolkien's approach as it seems to be the favored view so far, I would say something like;

The ratagen went across the room. The ratagens boarded their vehicle. Where are the ratagen troops?
The Ratagen council determined. He picked up the Ratagen artifact. Where are all of the Ratagens?

Something like that?
Exactly. He preferred using that plural as it suited him better.
Heh. Well, I just had a look through an old copy and he uses lowercase for dwarves, lowercase for elves, and upper case for Wood-elves.

He also uses lowercase for black squirrels, which might not be relevant but I assume the black squirrels were a type of squirrel, like red or grey rather than just a variation of a more common type.
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
5,119
Location
Edinburgh
My understanding is that it should be lower case, unless the name is derived from a proper noun.

So to take a 'real' imaginary example, you write Blemmyes because the name is (possibly) derived from King Blemys - the headless people with faces in their torsos. Whereas unicorns remain lower case.
 

THX1138

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 11, 2022
Messages
176
Location
Land Locked Ocean Dream
My understanding is that it should be lower case, unless the name is derived from a proper noun.

So to take a 'real' imaginary example, you write Blemmyes because the name is (possibly) derived from King Blemys - the headless people with faces in their torsos. Whereas unicorns remain lower case.
My grammar is lacking so, if I understand;
The unicorn in the field / The unicorn's in the field. (unicorn as a general name)

The Golden unicorn stayed in the forest. or The Golden Unicorn stayed in the forest. (the type/name of unicorn)

All of the Unicorns in the world. (meaning the species as a whole)
 
Last edited:

Zach777

Well-Known Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2022
Messages
51
Location
United States
Many fantasy and sci-fi authors capitalize them, but grammatically they should be lowercase. From what I understand, only if they're used as a proper noun should they be capitalized.
 

Swank

and debonair
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
445
My grammar is lacking so, if I understand;
The unicorn in the field / The unicorn's in the field. (unicorn as a general name)

The Golden unicorn stayed in the forest. or The Golden Unicorn stayed in the forest. (the type/name of unicorn)

All of the Unicorns in the world. (meaning the species as a whole)
Golden Unicorn. All of the unicorns in...
 

Similar threads


Top