Grammar Moses: Lowercase ‘iPhone’? A capital idea

Riddle me this, grammarians: What do Amazon, Hulu, Citibank, Facebook, Macy’s, Lenovo, EBay and Android have in common?

Each of their corporate identities actually begins with a lowercase letter.

Yes, capital-challenged poet e.e. cummings must have had a hand in the creation of each corporation, despite his having died in 1962. I get it, having designed a couple of logos in my day: Not leading off with a capital letter can provide some visual balance.

But we in the news business capitalize all of them, whether they are at the beginning of a sentence or not. Why? I wasn’t sure an hour ago. But at least we’re consistent.

Or are we? Reader Kay Severinsen points out we’re not.

“Is it AP style or just brand name kowtowing that leads journalists to lower case the ”i“ in ”iPhone“ when it is the first word of a sentence? Or headline?” she asked. “English writing capitalizes every first word of every sentence. If a brand has this lower case affectation, they can still have it in the middle of sentences. But Apple gets to set its own rules? You might guess I am an Android user and you’d be right!”

“Kowtowing” comes at you with some heat, so I know this is something that really is stuck in Kay’s craw.

Associated Press style is to preserve the lowercase “I” in iPhone. All of the others, despite their corporate logos, are to be turned into capital letters.

On the surface, this seems rather arbitrary.

One could argue that the ubiquity of “iPhone” in our lives gives it enough gravitas to break the rules. Mine, at least, is never more than an arm’s length away. But rare is the day there is no Amazon package on my porch, and I don’t believe I’ve gone a day without looking at Facebook since I created an account. Those two companies don’t get the same treatment.

Could it be that the second letter in “iPhone” is capitalized and having two capital letters in a row wouldn’t look or feel right?

That argument doesn’t hold water when you consider EBay.

But as Assistant News Editor/Word Nerd Melynda Findlay-Shamie pointed out, there is a simple explanation: iPhone, iPad, etc., are product names, not company logos. Hulu, Amazon and others have lowercase logos while their corporate names have the first letter in uppercase.

The Adidas company was established 99 years ago buy a German named Adi Dassler. And if you know anything about German, every noun - common or proper - is capitalized. So Adidas’ sticklerishness about its corporate name having zero capital letters is a bit mystifying.

Among the letters I’ve received from companies over the years is one from Adidas reminding me to keep capital letters away from their company.

So that’s my roundabout explanation, Kay. I hope you read this on your “android” phone.

Spelling fans

In my last column, I opened a window onto my self-loathing soul to give you an appreciation for how I became a competent speller. It’s not always been pretty for me, and apparently not for some of you.

“I was a master speller, too, or so I thought,” reader Rick Dana Barlow wrote. “I either buckled under the pressure of intense adolescent mental competition in a junior high spelling bee or simply got ahead of myself. I knew how to spell the word ‘diesel,’ but I must have taken a cue from the person’s pronunciation and substituted a second “i” for the second “e.” Crazily enough, I knew it was wrong and heard myself. Sigh. Whenever I drive a diesel engine moving truck I’m magically transported back several decades.“

Somehow, Rick, having to pay a lot more for diesel fuel ought to be punishment enough.

“We found it humorous when our daughter misspelled ‘nemesis’ in a spelling bee,” wrote reader Beth Todas. Lest you think she was picking on her daughter, Beth confessed to wanting to mispell “mispell” as “misspell.”

Hey, don’t we all?

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim’s book, “Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage,” at Write him at and put “Grammar Moses” in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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