Thursday, 16 November 2017

The need for capital letters

“Did," when it appears at the beginning of a sentence, starts out with an uppercase “D" and ends with a lowercase “d." They're the same letter, but they look different. Have you ever given any thought to how strange that is? Why can't all letters simply be the same? Why do we have both uppercase and lowercase letters?

The question is interesting, but I would reverse it: Why does English have lower-case letters? Most of the letters used in English derive from the Roman alphabet, which was entirely upper case. (The terms upper case and lower case derive from movable-type printing, and refer to the physical location of the racks—cases—where each set of type was located.) Lower-case letters derive from script, and predate printing.

According to Wikipedia: "Originally alphabets were written entirely in capital letters, spaced between well-defined upper and lower bounds. When written quickly with a pen these tended to turn into rounder and much simpler forms, like unicals. It is from these that the first minuscule hands developed, the half-unicals and cursive minuscule, which no longer stay bound between a pair of lines."

When it comes to letters, case refers to whether letters are written in larger uppercase form, which is also often known as majuscule or capital letters, or smaller lowercase form, which is also known as miniscule or small letters. For example, the first three letters of the alphabet in uppercase form are A, B, and C. Those same three letters in lowercase form are a, b, and c.

Historians believe that majuscule or uppercase letters came first. The first alphabets were written entirely in large majuscule letters, evenly spaced between well-defined upper and lower bounds.

Over time, however, it was only natural that smaller versions of each letter would develop. This probably happened as letters were written quickly. To save time and space, letters became smaller and more rounded as scribes hurried to finish their work.These smaller versions of letters eventually evolved into an entire miniscule set of letters. Compared to majuscule versions, the miniscule versions offered improved and faster readability in addition to      being easier and faster to write.

Today, lowercase letters are used most frequently, with uppercase letters reserved for special purposes, such as capitalizing proper nouns or the first letter of a sentence. The terms “uppercase" and “lowercase" come from the way in which print shops were organized hundreds of years ago.

When and how to use capital letters can be a thorny problem. It may be acceptable to drop capital letters when writing casually to friends but if you are writing anything more formal then you need to use capital letters correctly.

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