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Wiktionary says that the "T" in "T-shirt" should be capitalized, with "t-shirt" an alternative spelling. Why is an upper case "T" preferred?

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    ? because T-shirts don't have long necks and curly tails ? – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 9 '13 at 12:00
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    I've argued with Wiktionay for years that it has no business declaring one spelling to be the alternative to another. They should use a heading that doesn't lend superiority to one form such as Spellings or Other spellings. Wiktionary entries vary as to how one word is given the "main" entry and others the "alternatives". Sometimes there's a Google Fight, sometimes it's first come first served, sometimes there's a small battle between who is right among British English and American English! Do not trust these Wiktionary labels! – hippietrail Feb 10 '13 at 0:41
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    @hippietrail you're doing to comments what Mick Dundee does to knives! :) Anyway, I've opened up a question on how much I should trust Wiktionary at ell.stackexchange.com/q/1307/54 – Andrew Grimm Feb 10 '13 at 1:28
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    @hippietrail Strunk & White? [falls to the floor and writhes in anguish] – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 10 '13 at 2:02
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    @hippietrail So do I; so, for that matter, do you, and everybody else who Answers here. But unlike White, I consult my audience. And, also unlike White, I follow my rules in my own practise. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 10 '13 at 2:17
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It is a T-shirt because its shape reminds of a capital letter T, in the same way an A-frame's shape reminds of a capital letter A.

A-frame

While it is more correct to say the shape reminds of a capital letter T, than a lowercase t, t-shirt would be equally understood.

8

I have done some online research tonight, and found out that while many other formerly proper nouns such as Internet, and E-mail have transformed into common nouns, the powers-that-be have mostly resisted a similar transformation of T-shirt because the capital letter T shows the approximate shape of the item of clothing. Other words like this are A-frame, C-clamp, I-beam, L-bracket, O-ring, S-curve, T-shirt, T-square, T-junction, T-bar, U-turn, and V-neck.

I did not come up with this myself; I found this information in the answer and ensuing conversation at this ELU question.

I hope this helps, and look forward to hearing what others have to say.

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    I can see why we wouldn't want to switch to a-frame and l-bracket; however, o-ring, s-curve, c-clamp, and v-neck would all work fine – upper or lower case. I'm thinking that there might be some kind of convention other than retaining the resemblance between the object and the letter after which it's named. – J.R. Feb 9 '13 at 13:37
  • @J.R. I wonder if it's common to capitalize a letter when you're talking about the letter itself. The capitalization (or lack thereof) of "F word" might prove or disprove this theory. – Andrew Grimm Feb 10 '13 at 9:45
  • @Andrew: I'm trying to think of an object that resembles a lower-case letter, but D-hooks look like upper-case D, B-hooks look like upper case B, and G-strings look like – well, I can't figure out what letter a G-string looks like. :^) – J.R. Feb 10 '13 at 10:13
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    Don't confuse the concepts of proper nouns and capitalization. There is no 1:1 correspondence. Proper nouns are one major instance of capitalizing, but not the only one. – hippietrail Feb 12 '13 at 0:59
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    I thought of another one yesterday that normally uses lower-case: f-stop. (That's nothing definitive, but it makes me lean toward the theory that upper-case letters are used when there is resemblance to the character itself.) – J.R. Feb 13 '13 at 9:05

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