July 30, 2002
Stupid Arguments

PejmanPundit links to an interesting CNN story. The details are irrational and downright bizarre, but the first paragraph gives the gist:

An argument over who was going to heaven and who was going to hell ended with one Texas man shooting another to death with a shotgun, police said Monday.

Eight or ten years ago in Alabama, two men were out drinking at 2:00 or 3:00 AM and started arguing about which could quote more Bible verses. The loser shot and killed the winner.

Among other things, the second story provides a neat illustration of the fact that one can know a great deal about a subject without understanding it at all. I wouldn't be so bold as to try to draw a clear line separating what the Bible teaches from what it doesn't, but I'm quite sure that 'kill people who embarrass you by showing your ignorance' comes in the second category.

By the way, haven't 'Heaven' and 'Hell' traditionally been capitalized in English? Is CNN's failure to do so in this story some kind of subtle (not necessarily conscious) put-down, implying that they're not real places? That wouldn't make much sense, since Shangri-La and Utopia and Hades keep their capitals. Any professional editors out there who can tell us what's going on? Anyone have access to an official stylebook for CNN or any of its journalistic competitors?

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 30, 2002 02:22 PM

I am presently writing a novel that concerns Heaven, Hell, and the Purgatory. Basically, it works like Mom and mom and Dad and dad. If you are referring to the specific Heaven or Hell in the Bible, it is capitalized. If you are refering to heaven or hell in the general sense "The lecture was pure hell" or "It's heaven out there."

In the case where the reference is ambiguous, the lowercase is generally appropriate unless the person stating it is likely to referring to the Heaven specifically. "What a heavenly day outside" says agnostic Suzie. "What a Heavenly day outside" says Father Morgan.

When referring to it in the narrative, heaven and hell are generally not referred to euphamistically, and therefore ought to be capitalized.

So, in the case of this article, where they are clearly refering to the Christian Heaven, it should have been capitalized. I tend to believe it to be an honest mistake, though.

Posted by: R. Alex on July 30, 2002 05:16 PM

I can't remember which writer it was who, when asked by his editor why he capitalized "Hell" in a manuscript, said, "Because it's a place. Like Scarsdale." Anyone happen to recall?

Posted by: Michelle Dulak on July 30, 2002 08:26 PM

Hmmm. I never capitalize either of them, and I'm one of those wretched fundies so I trip over them a lot. I see them grammatically as more like "house" or "car". But that's just me.

As for the men in Texas, I guess it settled the argument, didn't it? Stories like that always leave me scratching my head because I truly cannot imagine being so angry at someone over that that I would even strike him, much less kill him.

Posted by: susanna on July 30, 2002 09:18 PM

That's funny... I recently mentioned another example of CNN screwing up grammatically. Seems their in the habit of it.

Posted by: Lynn on August 1, 2002 01:57 PM

DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! It never fails. Start picking on someone else's grammar and you end up making a horribly embarrassing mistake yourself. And to top it off, it's something I've mentioned several times as one of my pet peeves. I'm going to quit posting in comments. Why can't we edit these things? Okay, I think I'm going to shut up now.

Posted by: Lynn on August 1, 2002 02:00 PM

I find it amusing that the result of CNN's story is that we're all sitting around discussing grammar.

Posted by: Donald on August 4, 2002 04:19 PM