Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The New American History

The version of Microsoft Word in which I am currently writing objects to capitalizing "Confederate."

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

I'd not read too much into it. It isn't a political statement, so much as it is a reflection of natural changes in word usage frequency.

A century ago, if you were using the word "confederate", odds were very good it was in the context of the then-still-recent American Civil War.

But today, since we're further removed and no longer have reason to talk about the Civil War as frequently, we've reclaimed the word for more general usage: as it was originally used, before the Confederates co-opted it by association.

In ordinary discourse in the present, we talk and think about a given person having "confederates" (typically in the context of crime) far more often than we talk about The Confederated States of America. Thus, a word processor is going to recommend the uncapitalized version, since it has become exceedingly unlikely that a person will use "Confederates" in the vast majority of test cases.

Compare with "Mogul" / "mogul". The vast majority of people using the word today are simply talking about a generic important person - not specifically the Turco-Mongol Chagatai Muslim dynasty that ruled over most of India from 1526 to 1857.

See also "Czar" / "czar". Although in both these examples, the improper noun developed out of the proper one - in contrast to "confederate" starting as an improper noun, becoming a proper one, and then reverting back to impropriety.