Susan wrote with this capitalization question:
"I work for a man who does Chinese energy work called ‘qigong.’ When that word is used in writing (on our web site, for instance), people tend to capitalize it. My contention is that it should be treated like the word yoga and should not be capitalized unless it becomes a proper noun such as ‘Priscilla’s Yoga Institute.’"
My first thought was that Susan was right: qigong would only be capitalized if it were named after a person (like Alzheimer’s or Hodgkin’s disease) or used as part of a name.
But then I grabbed my American Heritage College Dictionary to look up the term. It was capitalized and rendered as two words: Qi Gong. Here is the definition:
"A Chinese system of prescribed physical exercises or movements performed in a meditative state."
And when I used OneLook Dictionary Search, I found six of the seven online resources capitalized the term in their listing. Why?
Then I remembered my Chicago Manual of Style, a great resource on handling foreign words in print.
Chicago makes this point on the capitalization of Chinese and Japanese words written in English:
"Names of institutions, schools of thought, religions, and so forth are capitalized if set in roman [type], lowercased if set in italics." [Chicago recommends italics for words in a foreign language that are not familiar to readers.]
Following Chicago’s guidance, since Qi Gong is a "system of prescribed physical exercises"–similar to an institution or school of thought–it will be rendered like this: Qi Gong (or with Susan’s spacing: Qigong).
Of course, if we follow Chicago, we can’t use Qigong in Scrabble–or can we? Yoga yes, Qigong no? If you are a Scrabble player and know whether Qigong is acceptable, please comment. Those of us who get stuck with that 10-point letter q when all the u’s are gone would like to know.