Some of my fiction sci fi characters are ESP sensitive and the term is used a lot. Capitalized ESP stands out in my sentences like yelling so I am using esp,lower case. Is that acceptable? Will a potential publisher object filing my novel in the trash?

  • kinda depends on the pronunciation. Saying /EE-ES-PEE/ is written <ESP>. If she is saying /esp/ it's written <esp>.
    – Boondoggle
    May 29 '18 at 3:41
  • I feel like abbreviations really have a negative impact on the story unless they are used for (company) names and such. If you must use the abbreviation at least make sure you explain this to the reader the first time you use it. That helps the reader understand and accept it. May 30 '18 at 9:10
  • ESP is an acronym of Extra-Sensory perception. Acronyms are usually capitalized. Not capitalized a well-known sends a signal to publishers. It says you don't know how to use the language in case how to present acronyms. Potential publishers won't like it. It may look like shouting, but it's not. Although If you call a character an esper, that's a word not an acronym.
    – a4android
    Jun 20 '18 at 10:25
  • @Boondoggle Sorry pronunciation has nothing to do with it. It's an acronym and they're usually capitalized. Although some acronyms have become words in their own right. ESP is not included among them.
    – a4android
    Jun 20 '18 at 10:25

ESP stands for "Extrasensory Perception". It is an abbreviation. The correct way to write it is therefore in All Caps: ESP, similar to how one writes NASA, USA and DNA.

A potential publisher wouldn't trash your novel for a capitalisation error, but it is quite possible they wouldn't understand what you mean by 'esp', similar to how one might look at a misspelt word, and be unable to figure out what it was supposed to be.

  • 4
    “esp” might also be mistaken for “esp.”, the abbreviation of “especially”.
    – celtschk
    May 28 '18 at 19:22
  • @celtschk Yeh, that was my first thought too. May 28 '18 at 19:43
  • 2
    How about RADAR (RAdio Detection/Direction And Ranging), LASER (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation), and so on? Just because it's an abbreviation or acronym doesn't mean it should necessarily be written in all caps; usage evolves over time. Note: I'm not arguing that you're wrong for the specific case, but I'm not sure you can generalize quite as far as you do.
    – user
    May 29 '18 at 8:28
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    @MichaelKjörling Radar, Laser etc. have evolved to become words on their own right - the common user would know what they are without necessarily knowing the word started out as an abbreviation. There's also the distinction between acronyms, which are read as a single word, like NASA and AIDS (with the last in the process of undergoing the same evolution as 'laser'), and initialisms, which are read by letter, like USA, DVD, and ESP. With an initialism, one can hardly "forget" it's not a word on its own right. May 29 '18 at 8:37

As stated in the other answer, ESP should be in all caps. One way around this problem is to come up with a term that people would use in every day usage to refer to someone with this ability. This happens all the time in science fiction and fantasy (and, it should be said, in real life). Alfred Bester, Isaac Asimov, and Robert A. Heinlein used to refer to Espers for people with ESP powers, and I think Phillip K. Dick used the term "teeps" for people with telepathic powers in "The Hood Maker" ... there are many examples to draw from.


Another possibility is to "reclaim" the abbreviation and turn it into a noun or verb. This would allow you to use lowercase in particular sentences.

For instance, the group of espers was adept at esping other people. (I know I've read science fiction stories where the lowercase espers was used.)


If it is referred to as "ESP" specifically, it should be capitalized. Reading "esp" lowercase feels like reading a shortened "especially" in a text message. But you might avoid an overabundance of ESPs by allowing the narrator and/or characters to call it something else, especially if there are many of them that have it. They might have "powers," a "sixth sense," "radar," or use another story-specific noun/verb like "esper" (pronounced ess-purr) as mentioned in other answers, to refer to ESP or those with ESP in the story. You could even use the context of your sci-fi world to avoid "ESP"... if there's an invented language, name it in that, translate it once, and use your name from then on. Or, the history of a discovery or technology that explained or enabled the individuals with ESP might be discussed, and from its name derived another for the phenomenon itself.

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