contributed by Dr James Everett
LS Cultural Committee Chairman, Maybinton, South Carolina
Capital: South, Southerner and Southern
The great centralist wisdom of the compilers of the Chicago Manual of Style (by which writers, publishers, copy-editors, and scholars determine 'standard' usage) is that South, Southerner and Southern should be written south, southern and southerner. Such a choice to lower-case these words no doubt has behind it the implicit belief that the South is merely a direction on the compass in this United-We-Stand One-Nation-Indivisible. The Chicago Manual of Style has thus become for usage what Noah Webster was in the nineteenth century in standardising American spelling and vocabulary to the bland Northern norm. If wrongheaded in the practice to lower-case southern and southerner, the Manual is at least consistent in its choice also to lower-case north, northern and northerner. We can take some small consolation from the fact that at least this error in thinking is not compounded with the usual obligatory biased double standard.
It has just recently dawned on me that so engrained is the centralist way of thinking in all of us, that even some of our best Southern thinkers and most devoted Southern devolutionists also use the lower case spelling! We do so from habit without realising that when we do so, we are tacitly accepting the line of centralist thinking. Thus, one of the most essential changes we need to make in our orthography, one we must make immediately, is to capitalise these South-derived words. In so doing, we counter the centralist mindest that has become ingrained in us all. Think about the logic (illogic) of it. Most of us Southern Nationalists have come to learn to capitalise the South as we do America; but unlike American, following the lead of the Chicago Manual of Style we still write southern and southerner. This, dear friends, much change!
Because the South is more than a compass direction, it stands to reason that its derivative words must show it by their capitalisation. We Southerners have the sense that we are a people, and a nation in the true Biblical sense of the word. I often call us the nation without a government. So it is totally appropriate to capitalise Southerners as we do Irishman, Swede, or Norwegian. Our adjective Southern should be the capitalised counterpart of Irish or English or Swedish. Who has ever seen the lower-cased swede and swedish, or english and englishman? How peculiar these spellings would look! That we accept the lower-case southern and southerner as a given without thinking proves the pervasiveness of centralist thinking.
The capitalisation of South, Southern, and Southerner is therefore of first importance, and not just to show our high regard for the South. The act has as well social, philosophical, and political import. Bhy capitalising these words, we signify that the South is indeed more than just a region. This capitalisation is the mark of secession. When we capitalise these words we have already recognised the South as its own nation and have seceded on the page. Perhaps that is the primary reason, after all, for the centralist's lower-casing it.
Verbal independence is a step toward political independence. It is a much bigger step than we might realise. Think of how many times we have tacitly agreed to the centralist way of thinking - agreed to it each time we lower-cased South, Southerner, Southern. Not everyone can have the talent or time to run for office, edit periodicals, teach courses, write books, articles, and the like, but we can all instantly change our habit of spelling these two words. It is a seemingly small matter, but of the most essential nature and greatest import.
In publishing books with two university presses I was told by their copy-editors that my use of capital South, southern, Southerner, North, Northern, Northerner did not comply with the Chicago Manual of Style, which publishers use as their authority on usage. My reply was that I knew the copy-editors were accurate in this and that all publishers complied, but that I still preferred to keep my capital letters for South, Southern, and Southerner. I would, however, out of a spirit of compromise, agree to lower-case north, northern, and northerner. I reasoned that if northerners in that northern compass point of the United-We-Stand One-Nation-Indivisible that created the Chicago Manual of Style, did not feel they were separate and distinct, I would honour their right to think so. Indeed, if they did not feel distinct, then they were not, and it would be accurate to lower-case them. But under no circumstances should South, Southern, and Southerner be lower-cased. We in the South feel we are a distinct people. Both copy-editors honoured my wishes with South, Southern, and Southerner, but insisted that for consistency's sake North, Northern, and Northerner also be used. 'Fine,' I said, and so it was done.
Perhaps this matter of capitalisation may be a very small technical point to many, but we devolutionists will no doubt immediately grasp what a crucial point it is, and how important it can be to the Southern Movement. Please, then, good Southerners remember to capitalise South and our words derived from South. It is happening more and more widely today. I hope we will soon start seeing even more results of this effort everywhere about us. And when we do, we'll know we are making even greater strides toward our goal of independence.