Are capital letters always practical? Surely not for the typewriter mechanic, devising a complicated system that would enable a quick change of casesPexels

it’s the first week of michaelmas. the delirium of your first few days back in cam dissipates as you sit down at your desk, avert your eyes from the stained wine glasses gathered on your bookshelf over several blurry nights of pres, and death-stare the heap of tasks on your to-do list, growing almost as quickly as the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of your room. a familiar, queasy feeling creeps over you and you stop to investigate. hangover? no, just the dread of an essay crisis, spreading through your body and freezing your mind.

in an effort to distract yourself, you abandon the empty word document and open varsity’s website. an article catches your eye and you quickly realise why as you click on the title and begin reading. there are no capital letters.

the words on your screen flash in alarm as you scroll down… but the appearance of a capital letter in the next paragraph quickly checks your fear. your rational impulses come to the rescue: this is no dystopian revolution against capitals, you think, emerging out of some crazed hallucinatory remnant from freshers’. only an innocent editorial mistake…

“They are a sign of regularity; a medium for standardisation that signals order and formality”

When, where, how we use capital letters— these are not questions we spend our time puzzling over. The answers come naturally, automatically (unless, I admit, I’m formatting my work according to the MHRA Style Guide, then I tend to run into frustratingly unnecessary trouble).

Begin ALL SENTENCES with capital letters.


These rules are packed and stored away in the malleable brains of children ever since they learn to write. They are a sign of regularity; a medium for standardisation that signals order and formality. Notice, for instance, how all Varsity articles begin with a bold, block capital protruding from the neat, Times New Roman print in a minimalist take on the classic illuminated capitals that adorned medieval manuscripts. A standardised process, shared by the likes of The New Yorker or The Economist, signalling to the reader the beginning of a new story, written under a set of preconceived conventions that we’ve been taught to expect and recognize. A glorified version of the role capital letters have been playing in sentences for thousands of years.

But let’s ask ourselves: are capital letters always practical? Surely not for the typewriter mechanic who was forced, by capitalisation regulations, to devise a complicated, two- (or even three) row system that would enable a quick change of cases. Or for pre-schoolers learning the alphabet, confused by the arbitrary link they were asked to make between the sharp, severe strokes of a capital A and the unthreatening roundness of its counterpart.

But capital letters also cause unnecessary ambiguity. Open any anthology of 18th-century verse and you’ll quickly find random capital letters drifting aimlessly across nearly every page, adding nothing but an element of confusion to the reading process— ‘The poet had no system of capitalisation, but deployed them as the mood took him,’ writes Peter Cochran of Byron’s poetry, for instance. Or perhaps a more relatable example: ever wondered if you should address the recipient of your email “You” or “you”? Problem solved if capitalisation didn’t exist… Maybe there’s a reason why Arabic, Persian or Hebrew don’t make use of capital letters at all.

“Behind every apparently “casual” act of lowercasing lies an intention”

This brings me to my main point of interest: the internet trend of lowercase typing. I doubt so much thought had gone into the style when it first escaped the technical premises of Unix coding and arrived at the walking zombie of an app that is Tumblr. This has spread across cyberspace, infiltrating Instagram captions, Snapchat usernames, text messages, and most recently, song titles. To borrow a phrase from Gretchen McCulloch’s relatively recent book on internet phenomena, Because Internet, this ‘minimalist typography’ became popular particularly for its self-reflexive quality and relaxed, community feel.

That the lowercase tone of voice strikes a note of raw, unedited informality will, of course, come as no surprise to the average, tech-fluent teenager. What is interesting about the trend, rather, is this ironic truth: that behind every apparently “casual” act of lowercasing lies an intention, conscious or subconscious, that urges the “casual” lowercaser to take the effort to deliberately delete a capital letter, to undo autocapitalization on a message, or even to go to their phone settings and turn autocapitalization off completely. Suddenly, with this reality in mind, lowercasing no longer seems the lazy, laid-back form it expressly seeks to be.

So what exactly are we trying to achieve by typing in lowercase? In a quick search for answers, I came across a variety of explanations that included intimacy, speed, casualness, trickery, laziness, humour, artsiness, droning, humility, and tiredness as incentives for lowercase typing. But whatever the reason, I can’t seem to shake off the suspicion that also involved is an element of the pretence and artifice that has come to dominate our social media-infused world.


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but because it’s time, now, to stop procrastinating and get back to that empty word document eyeing you angrily, impatiently, on your screen, i’ll leave you to contemplate the aesthetic on your own. friendly reminder: take care not to write your next essay in lowercase. then again, maybe you could try. and 4 extra avant-garde modernist experimentality u could leave punctuation out 2 :)