Why is "university" not capitalised here?

20

Why is "university" not capitalised in the second sentence below?

The Guardian: West Virginia University suspends fraternities and sororities after student lands in intensive care unit.

The Guardian: Students sue Virginia university after campus feminist group member killed.

Costa

Posted 2020-06-28T21:24:49.857

Reputation: 1 099

18There's an implied article, of that helps: "Students sue [a] Virginia university" – ikegami – 2020-06-29T17:42:59.477

2And in my opinion it would be even better if it were written as “Students sue a Virginian university” with an n at the end. – gen-ℤ ready to perish – 2020-06-30T17:22:25.717

1Headline writers are known for sacrificing grammatical niceties for the sake of a shorter headline. – Lee Mosher – 2020-07-01T03:22:22.737

@gen-zreadytoperish: If you don't mind my asking -- where are you from? Personally, I'd find "a Virginian university" rather strange; "a Virginia university" is maybe a bit newspaper-y, but I think the regular-person version would be "a university in Virginia". [Google Ngram Viewer comparison] I'm American, FWIW.

– ruakh – 2020-07-01T21:21:24.577

@ruakh Texas! We’re very proud of our demonym—Texan—and use it quite frequently. That’s why I’ve always found it weird that other states don’t use theirs. – gen-ℤ ready to perish – 2020-07-01T21:22:36.783

@gen-zreadytoperish: Good to know, thanks! Interestingly, Google Ngram Viewer doesn't find "a Texan university", either (only "a Texas university" and "a university in Texas"; [link]), but that might just mean that there isn't enough Texan writing in the Google corpus! :-)

– ruakh – 2020-07-01T21:27:13.267

1@ruakh Yes, I’ve noticed English speakers aren’t as fond of demonyms as I am. I think I like them because I also speak Spanish. We have an adjective form of basically everything—even simple words, like beach. – gen-ℤ ready to perish – 2020-07-01T21:29:35.953

Answers

57

In your first sentence, "West Virginia University" is a proper name (proper noun phrase), while in the second sentence, the university is not specified. It is just a university (common noun) located in Virginia, and so it should not be capitalized.

The likely cause for your confusion is the fact that news headlines usually don't follow conventional grammar rules, and abbreviate titles, e.g. by leaving out articles.

As OP Costa points out in the comments, if the second headline was written in accordance with conventional grammar rules, and not headlinese (as pointed out in the comments by Kevin), it may have read something like this:

Students sued a Virginia university after a campus feminist group member was killed.

Wehage

Posted 2020-06-28T21:24:49.857

Reputation: 1 066

22A similar distinction can be seen with "Florida man" (a man from Florida) and "Florida Man" (the infamous superhero). – JiK – 2020-06-29T09:25:29.467

12@Wehage your last sentence made it clear for me, but please edit your post and make it clearer for others who might find this post. Please write how the sentence is supposed to be "Students sue a Virginia university after a campus feminist group member was killed." – Costa – 2020-06-29T11:54:02.690

4Specifically, the university in the second article is the University of Mary Washington. But the average UK reader (and indeed the average US reader) probably wouldn't have heard of it, so the headline referred to it as "[a] Virginia university." – Michael Seifert – 2020-06-29T15:02:51.537

15

@Costa: It's not "supposed to" be anything. It's written in headlinese, and articles are routinely omitted in newspaper headlines. Note also the bizarre use of simple present tense, which would be incorrect in regular writing (should be simple past).

– Kevin – 2020-06-30T01:05:32.860

2@costa: check the "crash blossoms" syntactic-ambiguity link in the "Crticism" section of the "Headlinese" link above. They are notoriously difficult to tease out the meaning without context. "Infant Pulled from Wrecked Car Involved in Short Police Pursuit" is particularly funny – Yorik – 2020-06-30T19:41:55.363

As a compromise, how about adding OP's sentence expansion with an emphasis by @Kevin that you'd only see this in a headline? I think OP's expansion is good, but OP just misphrased it: the sentence is supposed to mean, not be, "Students sue ..." – Bladewood – 2020-06-30T21:37:20.897