Editor at Large Mad CAPS U.S. vs. U.K. Written English

Capitalizing on Halitosis

Pop quiz: What country is this label from?

Label with border
Camouflaged by Paint.NET and liberal use of the “Clone” stamp

Let’s take a look at the first line of the copy to find the answer:

kills germs

Hmm. The use of a capital letter for the first word and lower-case on the rest probably indicates British English headline style. If this were a title in the United States, we would see almost every word capitalized–just take a quick glance at my blog to see what I mean. Then again, the capital “K” in “kills” could also just be the beginning of any US or UK English descriptive sentence. We’ll have to keep on reading.

But on the second line, the copy starts to get weird:

bad breath

When did bad breath become a Capital Condition? Even scary, life-changing diseases–breast cancer, hepatitis, bird flu–don’t merit capitalization in run-of-the-mill body text. But plaque gets upper-case treatment too, so could this be some sort of American English title, with only the “important” words in caps?

Not with what’s been done in the lower-case third line.

kills germs bad breath gum disease

Definite article “the” never takes a capital letter, unless it’s the first word in a title. But what about gum disease, the terrifying tooth destroyer? If a social hindrance like bad breath qualifies for capitals, surely a condition that could land you in dentures deserves some highlighting here. After all, gingivitis gets the capital treatment in the last line of the label.

So why did this company choose such inconsistent capitalization? It could be an effort to convince the reader in a hurry that this product Kills Bad Breath Plaque & Gingivitis, de-emphasizing connecting words such as “that” and “cause.” If this were true, however, killing [G]erms would probably be just as big of a draw to potential buyers. If this had been my job, I would have recommended the strategic use of bold or a larger font to highlight the advantages of this U.S.-made product (brand is behind the link).

At least the manufacturer is calling it Bad Breath [sic] these days, not the pseudoscientific diagnosis that this company first popularized through a massively successful ad campaign in the early 1920s.

Bonus link: Consumerist noticed another label oddity from the same source in December.

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