Tuesday, 31 May 2011

An i for an I

Years ago, I had come across an advertisement of Amul Chocolates wherein the cute little Amul girl is featured in a modified version of the Nursery Rhyme ‘Baa, Baa, Black sheep’.

It ran somewhat like this:

Little Maid, Little Maid, Do you have any Amul?

Yes sir, yes sir, full packs three.

One for me, one for myself,

And one for none other than me!

The First Person Singular Number ‘I’ is our most-favoured and most-used pronoun. When someone hands over to another person, a group photograph in which the latter is there, he or she first looks for himself/herself in it, takes a good look, and then only moves to the other faces in it.

And one’s own name is one’s most favourite word.

We are all 'I' specialists.

About a couple of years ago, I came across in The Times of India , a small article by Caroline Winter, reproduced most probably from The New York Times. The writer asks, a thought-provoking question: Why is Capital I used in the First Person Singular?

The writer says that Germans use the respectful Capital Y in ‘You’. The article goes on to say that the Capital I raised its dot-less head first in England. The generally-accepted linguistic explanation, the article states, is that ‘i’ could not stand alone un-capitalised, as a single letter. Charles Bigelow, a type-historian and designer of font families, explains, ”One little letter had to represent an important word but it was too wimpy, graphically speaking, to carry the semantic burden. So the scribes made it bigger, which means taller.”

The writer feels that perhaps our individualistic and workaholic society would be more rooted in community and quality and less focused on money and success if we each thought of ourselves as the small i, with a sweet little dot!

For that matter,users of e-mail are perfectly comfortable dismissing all capital letters and even correct spellings. The writer suggests: You try an experiment to capitalize those whom You address while leaving yourself in the lower case; it would be an humbling experience.

I feel that the writer has a good point. We write “You, he and I” or “You and I”, in that order. We don’t say “I, he and you” or “ I and you.”. ‘I’ always comes last; ‘You’ always comes first. Then why not always use the Capital Y for ‘You’ and the small i for oneself?

However, we may use the Capital I when it is the first letter of a sentence.

The Times of India has been following this practice in its editorial page.

I feel it is a good idea; i shall be happy to know what You feel about it.


  1. You are correct with the German grammar where 'Sie' with s in capital is used for formal 'You'. But times are changing very fast. Sometimes if I use 'Sie' for some of my colleagues who are 10-15 years older than me then they don't like it. They ask me to use 'du' (informal 'You') with them. Maybe it has come up with the US culture of using first names at work (or maybe they are being polite with me).
    Coming back to the question of using small i for oneself. The thought is definitely humbling and I would be more than happy to use it. But there might not be too many takers for it. What I find with people these days is that the 'Me, myself and I' culture has been deep rooted in them. I can't complain them 100% for this. For example, in the corporate world today during appraisals or job interviews, the bosses would ask what YOU have done good ? So one cant be humble enough to say 'our team did this', 'we did that'. One ought to say 'I' did this for the company, 'I' made that happen. This automatically makes it capital 'I'. It might not be the best example but I hope you catch the drift.
    At the same time, 'i' (:P) will also give you a contrary example. There is a big shot Professor in San Diego State Uni in U.S called fred harris. He knows his stuff. I attended some conferences where he was the key speaker. In the official schedule it used to often irritate me to see his name in small letters. I always thought that it is an editorial mistake. But this one time, I asked the organizers politely about the mistake. The lady laughed at me and then made a strange face and said that the Prof insist on writing his name in small letters. I was quite taken aback that day ! Maybe he is plain crazy or maybe that was the one of the most amazing examples of humbleness I had ever seen :)

  2. the.orchestra.of.life

    To show their humbleness, sometimes writers and press reporters use terms like 'this writer', 'the present writer' or 'this reporter' instead of 'I'.

    By the way, why was 'I' made the First Person? It appears this is so in almost all languages,

  3. Quite a difficult task to change after using it for such a long time. More than in writing if the humility is seen in real life it would do more good to the world.

  4. Sudeep
    Of course, that is true.


    You can spot an egoist by the gleam in his/her 'I' !!!