Should you capitalize 'wasabi miso mashed potatoes'?

Here’s a pro tip for how to make your reading more pleasing to the eye: Use fewer capitals.

A lot of writers don’t realize that many capital letters are optional — especially capitals that originate from companies or their products. For example, when writing a restaurant review, they’ll write Macadamia-Crusted Swordfish with Wasabi Miso Mashed Potatoes because that’s how it appeared on the restaurant’s menu or website.

It’s only natural that a restaurant would treat its chef’s creations as proper names — especially if the chef coined the name himself. But just because the restaurant considers it a proper name doesn’t mean you can’t use all those words as generic descriptors. Their Wasabi Miso Mashed Potatoes are really just mashed potatoes flavored with wasabi and miso, right? So while you could use the restaurant’s proper name, you could also use the words as generic descriptors.

In most cases, unless it’s a trademarked name, the choice is yours. So how should you make that choice? Well, many newspapers and other professional publications have a policy of lowercasing such things whenever possible. The reason: They believe it’s easier on the eye. Generic words flow as part of an ongoing narrative while Formal Capitalized Proper Names break up the flow by demanding all the attention for themselves. That’s the argument anyway, and that's how I see it, too.

It’s the same reason many publications have a policy of lowercasing the T in “The” in proper names that appear in running text. Even if the band name is The Beatles, these publications believe that the Beatles is more digestible in the middle of a sentence. Again, I agree.

And it’s also the reason why the president and chief executive officer of a company need not be the President and Chief Executive Officer.

Of course, the restaurants, bands, and corporate officers don’t like this. They hold their own labels and titles in high regard. So if you’re writing marketing copy or the like, you might as well follow the Chief Executive Officer’s advice and capitalize The Company’s Miso Mashed Potatoes. But when your real boss is the reader, you might do better to lowercase every word you can.

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