Should you capitalize the Universe? Depends which one you’re talking about.
Credit: James West
Like God, the Universe arrives in our language — at least according to some physicists, metaphysicians, and comic book authors — as part of a set that bears its same name. God is a god, but Zeus is also a god. The Universe is a universe, but so might be every other membrane in the braneworld.
And, just like God, the Universe’s status as both title and member of its set presents some interesting questions to copy editors.
In the case of God, the Associated Press Stylebook instructs journalists to capitalize God “in reference to the deity of all monotheistic religions” and lowercase gods and goddesses of polytheistic religion or “in reference to false gods.” (AP’s example: “He made money his god.”)
The American Physical Society (APS), as astrophysicist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein noted in a tweet Jan. 18, follows a similar rule for talking about our Universe and universes in its journals. Our Universe gets capitalized, generic universes do not. [Where Is the Rest of the Universe?]
PRD copyediting theoretical cosmologists: “Note that PRD style shows to capitalize Universe when referring to ours.”
Now you know:
Our Universe. Their universe.
— Dr. Chanda If you are in crisis, text 741741 (@IBJIYONGI) January 18, 2018
In an email, APS physics editor Matteo Rini confirmed the rule. Our Universe is just one of many universes.
“I have asked around, but I don’t think there is any particularly deep philosophical reason behind this,” Rini wrote to Live Science. “‘Universe’ is capitalized as we capitalize ‘Earth,’ and it’s not [capitalized] if it just describes a category.”
Emma Green, writing for The Atlantic in 2014, explained that magazine’s reasoning in the case of God and why she disagrees with it:
“In my opinion, this suggests a belief on the part of the writer: Capitalizing ‘God’ means he or she believes in the formal existence of a thing called god, so that name is capitalized like any other name. My boss disagrees. Neither, he says, does capitalizing the protagonist’s name from The Big Lebowski entail belief in the existence of the Dude. So we capitalize God.”
The case of the Universe is less fraught — though not completely without contention. Live Science copy chief Laura Mondragon wrote that the APS style differs from Live Science’s house style, which is based on Associated Press style.
“Although the AP Stylebook doesn’t specify whether the ‘universe’ is capitalized, it clearly states that the ‘moon’ and the ‘sun’ are lowercase,” she wrote. “Considering the moon and the sun are Earth’s only natural satellite and star, respectively, such logic would apply to the ‘universe’ as well, along with similar terms such as ‘our galaxy’ (but: the ‘Milky Way’) and the ‘solar system,’ in all instances.”
Originally published on Live Science.