A conundrum: You say Capitol, I say capital, but which is correct?

Posted: Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Alaska Capitol is in Juneau, while the capital of Alaska is Juneau.

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It seems simple enough, to some. Perhaps the American Heritage Dictionary states it most succinctly. The term for a town or city that serves as a seat of government is spelled capital. The term for the building in which a legislative assembly meets is a capitol - capitalized if you're referring to one in particular, because that's its name.

In Juneau's 2005-2006 Southeast Alaska phone directory there are 19 businesses or organizations using "Capital" in their name. Among them: Capital Cab, Capital Canvas, Capital Chevrolet, Capital City Soccer League, Capital Realty, Capital Kennel, Capital Records, Capital Transit. Residents perhaps are most familiar with Capital City Fire and Rescue, Capital City Libraries and Capital Transit.

Then there is Juneau's Capitol Planning Committee, whose first purpose and charge is to develop a vision for a capitol building - not capitalized here because it refers to a hypothetical building and not the Alaska Capitol building.

simple rules

capital: a city where a seat of government is located.

capitol: the building in which a legislative assembly meets. capitalize u.s. capitol and the capitol when referring to the building in washington. follow the same practice when referring to specific state capitols.

source: the associated press stylebook

"Actually, adding 'building' is redundant because the Capitol is the building, but it is done sometimes to make things clear to the public," said Maria Gladziszewski, special projects officer for the city.

It follows, then, that "capital city" would be redundant, though it's a common term that even the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau uses on its Web site. Last April the Juneau Empire stopped being the "Voice of the Capital City," and now it just speaks for the capital.

Gladziszewski is a city staffer who works with the committee. She said capital and capitol are constantly mixed up and she does not know why.

"It is very clear, but people often make mistakes," Glad-ziszewski said. "If there is information about a proposed capital move it is spelled 'capital' and when it refers to the building it is 'Capitol,' but there are many variations I have seen."

Although she has a clear understanding of the two words, capitalization is sometimes debatable and requires consigns, Gladziszewski said.

"It is important to stick to one stylebook," she said.

The Associated Press Stylebook advises to always capitalize Capitol when referring to the building in Washington or specific state capitols, such as Hawaii's Capitol in Honolulu, the capital.

But do not capitalize capital, AP warns.

"When used in a financial sense capital describes money, equipment or property used in a business by a person our corporation," according to the "bible of journalists."

"I do not want to be associated in any way with financial institutions, so that ruled out using capital," Capitol Arms owner John Barnett said. "I did a national Internet search for capital and all I got were finance and lending institutions."

Capitol Arms is a catchy name that is good for business, said Barnett. The business sells sport and hunting firearms, ammunition and accessories, among other things.

"I wanted to refer to the actual building in Juneau so I used Capitol; the foundation which represents the seat, or center of Alaska government," Barnett said. "In Juneau I got at least 15 other businesses when I searched the Internet with 'Capital,' rather than 'Capitol.'"

If you "let your fingers do the walking" you will also discover Capitol Associates, Capitol Disposal, Capitol Motors, Capitol Resolve and Capitol Update.

Confused or potentially confusing Southeast Alaska newspaper headlines have read, "Keep the Capitol where it's safe," "Steady fight to keep the Capital" and "Capitol Spin Cycle."

Nationwide on Web sites, we see, "Welcome to the Georgia State Capitol, the working center of Georgia's state government in Atlanta." "The North Carolina State Capitol: Pride of the State." (Note: You really shouldn't capitalize 'state' with no good reason.)

Online Quiz Hub asks, "Can you name US State capitals?" (See?)

Capital is a modification of Old North French capitel, from Late Latin capitellum, meaning small head, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Perhaps the chairman of the Alaska Committee, Win Gruening, has it right when he says, "The mission of the Alaska Committee is to make government work better for Alaskans by improving and enhancing Juneau as Alaska's capital city."

Gruening's group opposes the "capital creep," "capital-move efforts," and "capital move in disguise."

But what of Capitol City Cleaning? Oh, never mind.



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