The Grammarphobia Blog

Over the hump

Q: Are you familiar with the term “CamelCase” for a compound word (like “PhotoShop”) with uppercase letters in the middle? I encountered it working with a smart copyeditor.

A: The term “CamelCase” (sometimes written “camel case” or “Camel Case”) describes a spelling with a dromedary-like bump or two in the middle, like “WordPerfect” or “HarperCollins.”

It’s a relatively new term and hasn’t made it into the three dictionaries I consult the most: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.), Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), and the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Chicago Manual of Style (15th ed.) uses the term “midcap” to describe a brand name or company name with two or more words mushed together and a capital letter or two in the middle.

The term “CamelCase” may have originated among techie types. A 1995 posting to a Unix newsgroup refers to “eMpTy (Oooo Camel Case)” and a 1996 message to a programming group mentions “a single word Camel-caser (like camel humps).” The 1996 post is part of an exchange that includes the verb “to camel-case.” A 1998 post on another programming newsgroup has the two words linked and the second “c” capitalized.

I find the ubiquitous commercial use of interior caps ugly, but it’s not particularly new. The “CamelCase” item in Wikipedia points out similar business usages going back half a century (“CinemaScope” and “VistaVision,” for example).

I may not like the usage, but I think “CamelCase” is a wonderfully descriptive term for it, much more colorful than synonyms like “midcap” or “mixed case.” So I wouldn’t be surprised if “CamelCase” has legs as well as humps!

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