article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes,
which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.
Stars and Stripes has one of the widest distribution ranges of any newspaper in the world. Between the Pacific and European editions, Stars & Stripes services over 50 countries where there are bases, posts, service members, ships, or embassies.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker has decreed that all command information products, including base newspapers, capitalize the word "soldier" from now on.
"The change gives Soldiers the respect and importance they've always deserved, especially now in their fight against global terrorism," stated an October directive from Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Department of the Army.
Schoomaker also has ordered his wordsmiths to ask the editors of Webster's dictionary and the Associated Press Stylebook to make the change as well. Webster's and the AP Stylebook are the reference books used by most newspapers, including Stars and Stripes.
"We've contacted the AP folks and they said they will consider it," said Master Sgt. Jon Connor, chief of Army newspapers. "But if the change comes out it won't be in the next book."
Phone calls last week to Schoomaker's public affairs office were not returned.
While military officials may be able to order public affairs personnel to change their releases, they do not have any command over the English language, according to those who would allow the change of "soldier" to "Soldier" in the dictionary.
"I don't see how he could do that," said Jim Lowe, an editor at Merriam-Webster in Springfield, Mass. "The word (soldier) is already established in the language. It's a generic word.
"He can capitalize it if he wants to give it emphasis and make it stand out in text. As far as the dictionary is concerned, it's still a generic word. I don't think one person's use of it will change anything in the dictionary."
However, the word "Marine" is capitalized by both the AP and Webster's when referring to a member of the United States Marine Corps.
Merriam's Lowe didn't seem to know why.
The Chicago Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press does not capitalize Marine. A receptionist there said no editors or professors were available to answer why the Chicago manual did not capitalize Marine.
The University of Minnesota style manual also does not capitalize Marine. The person there who could answer the question was not at work on Friday, according to her answering machine.
Webster's and AP capitalize neither "sailor" when referring to a member of the U.S. Navy nor "airman" when referring to a member of the U.S. Air Force.
However, the Air Force is getting into the style act, too.
Effective Jan. 1, all Air Force public affairs products will require courtesy titles when referring to someone for the second time, different from AP style.
For example, U.S. Air
Forces in Europe Commander Gen. Robert H. Foglesong will no longer
be "Foglesong" on second reference. He will be "Gen. Foglesong."
"As a [public affairs] professional, you hold enormous power and affect people's attitudes with the way you communicate to people inside and outside the Air Force," wrote Brig. Gen. Fred Roggero, the Air Force's public affairs boss, in a letter explaining the change.
Dr. Mario Garcia, president of Tampa-based Garcia Media and an authority on newspaper design, noted that Webster's and AP both capitalize Web and Internet.
Garcia said some of his colleagues believe that capitalizing words other than proper nouns and the first words of sentences makes the English language more confusing.
As for Garcia's own opinion: "Right now, I'd say that out of respect for the important work these people do, I'd have nothing against capitalizing the word to attach more importance to them," he wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
Added Lowe: "Maybe if the Army came up with another word - Armyist - maybe that would be capitalized."