Dear Mr. Hitchens and Newsweek

Filed under:Language Barrier,Need a Good Editor?,Religion — posted by Anwyn on January 10, 2009 @ 7:58 pm

The fact that you, Mr. Hitchens, do not personally believe in God, or any god, does not precisely give you the right to lower-case God in a Newsweek article, and the Newsweek editors who allowed it should turn in their stylebooks. The fact that you believe there is no such being as God does not negate the fact that in writing, the word God, capitalized, is used to refer to a distinct, specific entity commonly acknowledged to be the God of Judaism and Christianity, the God of the Bible.

When you start lower-casing Santa Claus, Sherlock Holmes, and Allah, Newsweek, then you may let Hitch get away with this cutesiness. Not before.

Via the headlines at Hot Air, where even Hitchens fanboy Allah doesn’t lower-case God except in cases of interjectional “thank God” moments.

Update: I assumed it was obvious, but I guess it should be noted that an advanced search for “god” at shows numerous instances of capitalized “God.” Hitchens did this to make a point and the magazine’s editors supported him. But as I point out on the comments below, while other gods who fall under the umbrella of the lower-case common noun (including God) have identifying proper names (Zeus, etc.), and while God does have other proper names (Jehovah, etc.), God is his most common proper name and thus is capitalized. Hitchens could have made his point in a stylistically correct way by simply referring to “men of the Judeo-Christian god,” but chose to go for the shock value and broke the rules in so doing.


  1. Amen to that, I think. Sorry, that’s about as committal as we agnostics can be about anything touching on theology. Seriously, though, if FoxNews can’t bring themselves to accurately report a story in which a British citizen dialed 999 (which should have saved his life, and would have done if the scum paramedics had done their jobs) rather than falsely claiming he dialed 911 (which would have been the thing to do here, but would have accomplished nothing in Britain), you’d think that Newspeak could at least edit out Hitchens’s annoying use of the lower case for a proper name. The one exception would be in citing the title of Hitchens’s book, where the irregular capitalization is arguably a significant part of the title (though apparently not significant enough for Amazon to follow suit).

    Comment by Xrlq — January 10, 2009 @ 9:26 pm

  2. According to, it is appropriate to use the lowercase.
    3. (lowercase) one of several deities, esp. a male deity, presiding over some portion of worldly affairs.

    To you, the Christian God is probably not “one of several” but to Hitchens, He is.

    Comment by Terry Notus — January 11, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  3. The definition I refer to is at #1 in your linked list. While “god” is appropriate to refer to any one of several gods, as you note, those gods almost always have another proper name by which we know which specific god is being discussed–Zeus or Mars, for example. While God has other proper names, such as Jehovah, he is most commonly referred to as God and that word, capitalized, is most commonly understood to refer to the deity of Judaism and Christianity.

    Hitchens’s usage was clearly referring to the deity of Judaism and Christianity; therefore the proper noun is appropriate, not the common noun. It is not matter of religion; it is a matter of grammatical usage.

    Comment by Anwyn — January 11, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  4. Sorry Terry, in this case “God” is a proper noun and as such capitalized. Unless you’d prefer the more formal “I am Who am.” Which would also get capitalized

    Comment by Ronsonic — January 11, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

  5. Anwyn,
    I saw definition #1 and that is obviously would be the most conventional usage. I think the bottom line is Hitchens want to make a point, namely that he does not venerate god/God. Do you go to bed at night cursing e.e. cummings? ;-) Or how about referring to Obama as He/Him? It makes a point succintly and gives me a chuckle. I think the Queen’s English will survive.

    Comment by Terry Notus — January 11, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

  6. Why do you even care? :/

    Comment by AndrewGurn — January 12, 2009 @ 7:52 am

  7. I agree Hitchens is being cute. Mickey Mouse, a fictional being, is properly capitalized, while the word “mouse” is not a proper noun. Hitchens knows that, but intentionally uses his writing to set the status of God somewhere below that of a fictional mouse. He does that for one of two reasons, I imagine; either because he likes sticking his finger in the eye of a believing reader, metaphorically, or else he is daring God to take notice of him and prove him (Hitchens) wrong. Experience leads me suspect it is the latter.

    Comment by Craig McCarthy — January 12, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  8. I don’t capitalize satan on purpose, not because I don’t believe in the existence of active evil, but because he’s a loser. Eventually.

    Since you’re a style expert I won’t look it up, but I often struggle with possessives that end in “s.” I was taught a simple and apparently incorrect rule in grammar school that if a word ended with an “s” it didn’t get an “‘s” tacked on. I have to refresh my memory on this (too) often, and always get a kick out of I think it is the A.P. Stylebook (could be an old NYT stylebook I have) that says the rule doesn’t apply to Jesus because he is, after all, Jesus.

    Comment by lifepundit — January 15, 2009 @ 3:56 pm

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