A capital idea: the whole world should stop shouting…

JOURNALISM lecturers at Leeds Trinity University have been told not to use ‘frightening’ capital letters, according to a silly story doing the rounds yesterday.

I wasn’t aware of this during the morning sessions and the students didn’t mention anything. One of my roommates at Leeds Trinity told me about the story at lunchtime, as she dashed off to be interviewed by BBC Look North about the deal Johnston Press, owners of the Yorkshire Post, the Scotsman, The i and other newspapers, has agreed with its creditors.

At the start of a long afternoon session, the third-year students asked me what I knew. Not a lot, but I’d seen the story on the Daily Express website, under the headline “University lecturers told DON’T USE CAPS as it frightens students.”

According to the Express, we’d all been told not to write in capital letters as it might alarm the students. The paper said this was blasted by some as “more academic mollycoddling” of the snowflake generation.

No one seemed to know where this concocted story came from, but the university issued an official statement saying it wasn’t true and pointing out that it was “best practice not to write in capital letters regardless of the sector”.

Over on Twitter, where this sort of story incubates in rapid fashion, some people made despairing jokes in capital letters, while lecturers at the university mocked the nonsense. I am happy to lend my part-time shoulder to the chant: “I LECTURE AT LEEDS TRINITY UNIVERSITY AND HAVE NEVER BEEN TOLD NOT TO USE CAPITAL LETTERS.”

The key to all this, if it even needs a key, lies in that use of the ‘snowflake generation’, that mean-minded put-down for young people. When the older generation – and, heavens, you need to be getting on a bit to read the Express; and heavens times two, I’m getting on a bit and that paper seems fusty and crusty to me – uses dismissive phrases about young people, it just comes over as mean and small-minded.

I asked the afternoon students if they minded being called snowflakes. Some certainly did, while others weren’t quite sure what the insult meant. If you ask this old snowball, it’s a silly but unpleasant way to refer to young people, and it builds up a picture of that generation being wimps and complainers.

I meet many young people nowadays and all I can say is that generally they’re great.

Anyway, the journalism lecturers at Leeds Trinity are a friendly and supportive bunch. And at least they now have new material for lectures about sources and how nonsense stories can end up in the newspapers, pushed there by mysterious and sometimes malicious means, often to fit a grumpy mind-set (“Get me a story about young people being snowflake wimps – we need to keep political correctness going: it’s a good sell for us”).

One obvious thought occurs to this journalist/lecturer. The newspapers who complain about this sort of thing call on capital letters all the time, especially on their shouty front pages. And in this age of Brexit bollocks and Trump tantrums, everyone uses capital letters to bawl and bellow their opinions, shouting each other down.

Perhaps the whole weary wide world should just stop using capital letters.

Leave a Reply