Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spectre or SPECTRE?

How should we write the name of the 24th James Bond film? That's easy, surely: SPECTRE (that is, entirely upper case letters). That's how the name was revealed at the official launch of the film in December last year and expressed on the teaser poster. And yet, read any report about the production of the film in the printed or online media and you will invariably see the name given as Spectre. Which is correct? Is there a distinction to be made? Does it matter how the name is written? Let's consider the evidence.

Dealing with the obvious point first, SPECTRE is an acronym, standing, of course, for 'The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion'. This is the precise form given in the first edition of Thunderball (1961)), and throughout the book, SPECTRE is capitalised.

Perhaps being used to seeing the name shown in this form after reading and re-reading the Bond books countless times, I have also tended to capitalise the acronym in my blog posts and tweets, and in that I'm in good company. The official James Bond 007 website gives the name in capitals, as do leading websites devoted to James Bond films, among them MI6: The Home of James Bond 007, The James Bond Dossier, CommanderBond.net, The James Bond International Fan Club, and The Spy Command.

In contrast, the name of film is often shown in the UK press and other media outlets with only the initial letter capitalised. Empire Magazine gives the title as Spectre in its special feature on the film in its current issue, and this was the form given in last week's features on Monica Bellucci in the 'Style' section of The Sunday Times and the 'Event' section of The Mail on Sunday. The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Guardian and the BBC news website also use this form. The Metro printed the title as 'The Spectre' on 19th February, but given the definite article in the acronym's expansion in Thunderball, I'm not sure whether the editors of that paper were not technically correct!

So who's right? Is it Spectre or SPECTRE? Well, it depends. From a grammatical point of view, the former tends to be preferred. According to Oxford University Press (publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary), “acronyms which are pronounced like words...tend to behave like words,” being entirely or partially lower case (eg Unesco, radar, Aids, Nato, Nasa). The BBC style guide offers the same advice, and probably other media organisations take a similar view. On that basis, we should be writing the name of the 24th Bond film as Spectre.

But go to the official websites of Unesco, Nato and Nasa and you will find that the acronyms are fully capitalised. From a corporate perspective, then, we should opt for SPECTRE. (Not being members of SPECTRE, we perhaps needn't worry about this, but a legal statement by LEGO advising people of the proper use of the word LEGO – Legos is discouraged – shows how sensitive corporations and organisations are to brand consistency and protection.)

Empire magazine makes an interesting distinction. In its feature, the name of the film is Spectre, but the organisation is SPECTRE. This approach seems a little fussy, and considering the arguments, I'm minded to adopt the Oxford and BBC style. On the other hand, people tend to be influenced by the behaviours of those around them, and no doubt I'm just as susceptible to this phenomenon (that is after all how aspects of culture – memes – are passed on and spread). My frequent visits to Bond-related sites or reading of Bond-related publications suggest that I am likely to stick with SPECTRE. But this could change if a wider consensus for Spectre emerges!

It seems, then, that there is no right or wrong. So long as the film is being talked and written about, creating interest and a buzz, it surely doesn't matter whether the name is Spectre or SPECTRE.

9 comments:

  1. SPECTRE. ALL CAPITALS...Sorry. I had the caps lock on. I think on a few occasions recently, I've gone as far as writing it as S.P.E.C.T.R.E., but that method gets old pretty fast.

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    1. Fair enough. But you're right about S.P.E.C.T.R.E. It does get pretty tedious spelling all that out. Interestingly, as an analogy, U.N.C.L.E., as in The Man from, is always all capitals and always with full stops.

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    2. I've gotten so lazy that now I just italicise it in capitals so that I don't have to use "inverted" commas to signify that it's a title of something.

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  2. Interesting and thoughtful piece that captures well the mood in the run-up to SPECTRE/Spectre (my cop-out!).

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    1. Thanks - much appreciated! I can see I'm going to be torn between the two. It wasn't this difficult with Skyfall!

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    2. Perhaps italics are the answer (for the film title - SPECTRE)?

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  3. I usually put titles in italics and restrict inverted commas to sections or short stories, but I can see I didn't italicise Spectre in this post. Will try to do that in the future.

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  4. it was really an amazing news for me another film of James Bond. I hope I can watch this movie. I hope they can provide a trailer of this film SPECTRE.

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  5. SPECTRE doesn't stand for anything; S.P.E.C.T.R.E. was, of course one of those gloriously naff old acronym baddie set-ups that screams Sixties as much as jet-packs and casual sex without tearing open packets... Luckily, the EON people seem to have realised to keep Bond contemporary AND to use the retro palettes and styles of the Connery era they need to drop the camp... even the octopus has had a makeover from the spy decoder ring style of the early days to a sleek titanium look... shame the baddie gets a sexier car...

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