Sunday, March 29, 2009


a grammatic response in capitol hill

i shared with my mother a joy in the oddities of the english language as written properly and improperly. oklahoma court history provided my most usual explanatory example - the 50+ years before someone figured out the implication of having a 'criminal court of appeals' and changed it's name to 'court of criminal appeals'. today i officially dub that almost automatic response to this kind of thing a 'gramatic response' and note that the joke is sometimes on me.

in grade school the designated teaching media was the film strip, a set of images projected on a screen one by a teacher with a clicker. it is only vaguely comparable to the slideshow of today and probably even some 40+ers don't remember the form. one of those taught be an apparently simple truth in what i think was the 5th grade, a picture of a capitol dome was forever linked in my mine with the proper spelling of that particular form of government building, the capitol with an ‘o’. i didn't come up with any such specific image for the other capital with an ‘a’. the irony was that i learned this lesson in the state with the capitol that didn't have a dome. now years later oklahoma has a dome, i live in capitol hill named after the building a developer hoped to house here, and i am left with a need to detail my grammatic response to the words capitol and capital - a phenomenon that occurs more than i care to admit.

a new oklahoma supreme court opinion in this week's bar journal was the actual catalyst for this blog effort. justice yvonne kauger is on my a list because of her relationship to, and support of, oklahoma indian people before and after becoming a justice. last week i read where she backed into the classic capitol mistake by quoting a former justice:

"¶22 Perhaps the most strikingly similar cause is the case of Johnson v.
Walters, 1991 OK 107, ¶22, 819 P.2d 694, wherein the challenged legislation involved two sections which empowered the Legislature to allocate space in the State Capital Building and to relocate various state officials, and a third section which authorized the sale of surplus water from Sardis Reservoir." Fent V. State ex Rel. Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority, 2009 OK 15.

reading this i realized it was time begun my research online in preparation for the definitive blog on the subject.

the first step was oklahoma state government. two items in an oklahoma governmental summary
netstate- oklahoma confirmed my theory but gave me my first clue to miss [emphasis added of course]:

On November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was admitted to the union. The state capital, Guthrie, was moved to Oklahoma City in 1910.

OKLAHOMA CAPITOL BUILDING: Location:Oklahoma City; Date Erected:1915-1917; Dome:2001-2002.

next i journeyed to definitions to confirm my capitol dome theory. merriam webster on line assured me that capitol means a building in which a state legislative body meets or a group of buildings in which the functions of state government are carried out; or when capitalized, the Capitol in washington. the word capitol, it seems, came from the latin 'capitolium', the temple of jupiter in rome on the capitoline hill. but again there was a clue in the definition for me to miss.

so finally it took another online dictionary,
the free dictionary, to teach me i was both right and wrong. capital means economic capital, big letters, murder for which the penalty is death, and a british adjective for a good thing. the roots included the latin word for head. but the most important part of the definition of capital which i missed is this: a town or city that is the official seat of government in a political entity ... [or] , the center of a specific activity or industry ... [e.g. a] financial capital'.

so now i'll continue my reeducated grammatic reaction to printed misuse of capitol/capital and hope you join in this one and others. by the way the picture at the top shows the oklahoma state capital company in guthrie which wanted to house the capitol and be the capital and in the end got this company which at least had the decency to spell its name right.



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