A sign in a railway carriage recently caught my eye, it was one of those notices that advise you what to do if the train should suddenly career off the tracks at ninety miles an hour, to end up in a mangled heap of twisted metal and burnt flesh. One of the directives said:
“await instructions from On Train staff”
And that puzzled me.
Not the instruction itself, that was pretty straightforward. What caused me to raise a questioning eyebrow was the odd capitalisation of the words ‘On Train’.
I’ve always been of the opinion – perhaps, you might argue, the grammatically correct opinion – that capital letters are reserved for the start of new sentences, proper nouns, titles, and expressing the first person singular. Occasionally, where the situation merits, they can be used to stress importance or to provide emphasis – a device I regularly employ on the pages of this blog. However, I’m picky about those words I consider deserving of such distinction, which explains my bemusement at the emergency notice: What, in particular, makes the words ‘On Train’ quite so special? As far as I can tell, we’re not referring to a proper noun here, neither could those words possibly be construed as a title – maybe, just maybe, I could accept that particular usafe if the word staff was also capitalised; that could be a title, of sorts, but just those two pathetic words on their own… No chance!
It seems to me to be symptomatic of our ever-increasing reliance on digital technology and, more specifically, on the rapid over-utilisation of the diminishing pool of available unique identities, tied with the need for ever more obscure passwords.
Let me explain:
No longer can we get away with Geoff66 and the stupifyingly difficult to guess password: Geoffword99 – these days Geoff and any combination of digits have long ago been employed by multiple Geoffs all over the world. They are long gone, so we have to make creative use of random and unnecessary capitals, along with arcane combinations of non-alphabetic characters, and passwords requiring that we practically need to develop our own language in order to devise an acceptable combination that will protect our online pizza orders from prying eyes. (Semi interesting fact: An 8 letter dictionary word, with a single capital, one additional digit and one non-alphabetic character will take a standard PC 10 years hard work to decode. Add an additional punctuation character, and we’re up to 800 years; just one more and it’s going to take 485000 years – consequently, my pizza orders are safer than my bank account!)
I think we’re becoming so used to randomising our vocabulary that we’ve started giving up bothering with such complications as rules of grammar and just do what looks good to us, whether it makes sense or not. Welcome to the post-digital world!
And I’m afraid we can find the confusion creeping into SL too, which for someone like me, who relies very much upon the placement of capital letters when calculating how to address a newcomer is a complete nightmare. It may be fun and quirky to have an ungrammatical name, but it’s less than helpful. If you turn up sporting the name geoFree Resident, how am I to know how to address you without causing offence? Is it Geoff? Geo? Geoffrey? Or some other mangled approximation of a name? And, for good measure, as the virtual gene pool of available monickers grows ever smaller, resorting to numbers to supplement any name is now pretty much standard practice – unless you’re fortunate enough to be Polish, in which case you could probably throw together any random combination of little used letters and come up with something usable 😉
I just want to be friendly, but it’s tricky when I can’t even figure out what you want to be called.
It is, however the shape of things to come, so I suppose I should just suck it up and accept it – Aberrant Capitals and all – in the unfortunate knowledge that things can only get worse, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Four letter word just to get me along
It’s a difficulty and I’m biting on my tongue
And I I keep stalling, keeping me together
The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name