Why did the first American settlers never capitalize north, south, east, and west?
Contestant #1: Is it because north, south, east and west are never capitalized?
Contestant #2: Is it because they were from England and the Brits don’t capitalize north, south, east, and west?
Contestant #3: Does this have anything to do with the fact that the first true American settlers were Native American Indians and they didn’t speak English?
Well, Contestant #3, you have a point but I am talking about the settlers that dressed in black and white, wore buckled shoes and hitched a ride on the Mayflower, so …
Here is the answer to the riddle, my friends.
The reason the first American settlers would never have capitalized north, south, east, or west is because we only capitalize these words when they are referring to specified regions of the country, and since the settlers had just arrived, they wouldn’t have specified any regions yet.
We don’t capitalize north, south, east and west when we’re using them to indicate compass directions, so the settlers would have used the non-capitalized versions:
Hester, I’m going to head north and see if I can find any firewood.
Would you like to settle east or west of the river, Samuel?
Today, it’s different. Now that we’ve settled all over the country, we use the words north, south, east and west to refer to specific regions of the country, not only compass directions.
When I say I am going to head to the South to visit family, I capitalize it because I am referring to this specific region:
(I am also lying because I don’t have any family there.)
I live in Southern California (a region that refers to the Los Angeles and San Diego areas), so if I said that I was going to head south, I would end up in Mexico.
But with my sense of direction, I would probably end up in Canada.