Word Confusion: God versus god

Posted March 14, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

This is one of my pet peeves…I know, what a nitpicker! Yet, it is an issue and, in some respects, less than respectful to God — whichever one you believe in! (The same capitalization issues afflict Lord!)

God the Father is a “person”, which means it is a name, a proper noun. And, yes, in some cases, capitalizing the more generic god is appropriate IF the reference to god is a more direct reference to God, the Supreme Being, the particular deity whom you worship.

The word god, while a noun, is more general and can refer to a variety of gods. One good example is when referring to multiple gods such as the Greek or Roman gods, Indian gods, animalistic gods, Native American gods, etc. Using god in these cases is not singling out one particular being.

As with the controversy over “Lord versus lord”, I suspect religion is what causes most writers to capitalize god when a lowercase is more appropriate, so consider bookmarking this post as a reference for when you’re self-editing your work.

This confusion is more of a formatting issue as it is a question of whether to capitalize or not. You may want to explore the post on capitalizing honorifics for more examples.

The Evolution of Swearing

A fascinating side trip is an exploration on the evolution of swearing. Many of the words we commonly use as cuss words are variations on using God as it was considered a form of blasphemy to use God’s name to swear.

Gosh darn, gosh almighty, and omigosh are some of the euphemisms for God as in the gol’ in goldarn. It is thought that ‘struth evolved from by God’s truth while egad is a substitute for oh God. Geez is a substitute for Jesus, and as for heck, well, no one wanted to attract the denizens of Hell.

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end. Consider sharing this Capitalization Confusion with friends by tweeting it.

God god
Credit to: Teaching College English; Merriam-Webster: god; Wikipedia


Image by GO69 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

A stained glass fragment — the medallion of the eternal Father — from the former Gothic collegiate church, Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Champeaux in ‘Ille-et-Vilaine, France.

three images side-by-side of wind gods

Image courtesy of Shizhao via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain in the United States

Left: The Greek wind god, Hada, 2nd century, is a personal photograph from 2004. Musée Guimet in Paris.

Middle: Wind God from Kizil, a Tarim Basin fresco, 7th century.

Right: Japanese wind god Fujin, 17th century.

Part of Grammar:
Proper Noun
Plural: no
Exclamation; Noun;
Verb, transitive 1

Plural for the noun and third person present verb: gods
Past tense or past participle: godded
Gerund or present participle: godding

Capitalization Issues
Capitalize lowercase
Proper Noun:
Referring to the actual Divine Being, the Creator and ruler of the universe

A supreme being in Christianity and other monotheistic religions and the source of all moral authority

As a term of respect, any time you refer to a specific supreme being for any religion, i.e., Allah, Shiva, Buddha, etc.

  • This includes “He/Her”, “His/Her”, “Thee”, “Thou”, “Himself/Herself”

[Christian Science] The incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit

Give emphasis to a statement or declaration

Express range of emotions from surprise to anger to distress

An adored, admired, or influential person

  • A thing accorded the supreme importance appropriate to a god

Generic god or gods/goddesses, a superhuman being, or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes

  • Deity
  • An image, idol, animal, or other object worshiped as divine or symbolizing a god
  • Used as a conventional personification of fate

[Informal] A very remote gallery of a theater far from the stage

Verb, transitive:
To treat as a god

  • Idolize
  • Deify
I don’t believe in God.

God is my Savior.

There is no God but Allah.

I believe in God the Father.

Well, may God help you in this mess.

God willing, you’ll get this done.

god dammit
god bless

Oh, for god’s sake!

Thank god that’s over with!

My god, why would you do that?

Oh, god, don’t do that!

God forbid you should ever help someone else.

The man is a god!

We’re sitting up in the gods for this performance.

He has little time for the fashion victims for whom he is a god.

Don’t make money your god.

It’s in the lap of the gods now.

He believes he’s an incarnation of the god Vishnu.

He dialed the number and, the gods relenting, got through at once.

Verb, transitive:
He’s always godding about.

Adjective: godlike, godward
Adverb: godward, godwards
Noun: godhood, godship, nongod, semigod, subgod, undergod
History of the Word:
First known use: AD 53-54 Old English and of Germanic origin. It’s related to the Dutch god and German Gott.

1 First known use: 1595

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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Jack Wellman’s post, “Christian Swearing and Swear Words: A Lesson on Guarding Your Tongue” approaches it from a particularly religious viewpoint on the website, What Christians Want to Know.

Melissa Mohr (author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing) has written a post at Salon.com on “The modern history of swearing: Where all the dirtiest words come from” which dives into her book from a different angle.

From an historical perspective, the Medievalists.net has a useful post, “By God’s Bones: Medieval Swear Words“, on the binding nature of using God’s name.

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