A Serious Outbreak of CamelCase: Treat With Caution!

A Freelance Copywriter’s Take on ’Lumpy’ Language…

YouTube, MySpace, FaceBook, BlackBerry, LinkedIn… is the english language suffering an attack of lumpiness? Not to worry. These are actually examples of CamelCase, which has been around since the 1950s: remember CinemaScope?

CamelCase involves joining words together, retaining capital letters to preserve each word’s visual clarity and identity. It has been used by the legal profession and financial services industries since the dawn of time.

Software engineers have adopted CamelCase to help with program-writing conventions. It allows them to tell the difference – at a glance – between coded objects, functions and procedures. You can understand why. It’s much easier to instantly ’see’ and comprehend the term SwitchAddressFields than switchaddressfields.

Because it allows instant comprehension, we probably haven’t seen the last of it. CamelCase is likely to go mainstream. You’re not allowed to put empty spaces in web addresses so companies use CamelCase to make site addresses easier for searchers and visitors to ‘get’.

Jim Wallace, president of the Society for the Preservation of English, is ambivalent about CamelCase. He says, “The use of such new names in daily commerce is no serious threat to the language.” (New Scientist 27/10/07). That’s good news. Although it’s important to use accurate grammar, punctuate correctly and use words in their proper context, language is a living thing.

The problem arises when CamelCase is used too much. In a brand name, fine. But when every word in a sentence or headline starts with a capital, it is very hard on the eyes. It makes copy very hard to read. Which puts visitors off and makes them navigate away.

My recommendation? Treat CamelCase with caution!

Update 2015: CamelCase has indeed gone mainstream, used in blog post headers, articles, <h2> and <h3> tags, everywhere. And I still hate it. It’s still like trying to read while riding a bucking bronco. What do you think?