[Humanist] 22.602 lower-case man

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Mar 9 07:07:14 CET 2009

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 602.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 08 Mar 2009 12:28:33 -0500
        From: Alan Corre <corre at uwm.edu>
        Subject: Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 22, No. 598

to steven totosy

i wish i  had the guts to do what you do, namely use only lower case, 
altho you make the perhaps worthy exception of items like US and URL. do 
you do this all the time? i have long believed that when computers came 
in, we should have dumped the upper case entirely. when i started using 
computers around 1975, we used a character set as the default called 
FIELDATA (of military origin) which was all caps. it was unfortunate 
that they chose the upper case letters, rather than the lower case 
letters, because upper case letters look as if you are screaming at your 
interlocutor, and ascii, pardon me, ASCII, soon came in and averted a 

let's consider some aspects of this situation. the existence of upper 
and lower cases in roman script is a pure fluke. originally they used 
all one or all the other, the lower case probably coming into existence 
because it was easier when using a quill rather than a chisel, or, to 
put it another way, lower case in a cursive in disguise. the horrendous 
mixing of cases is the bane of schoolchildren, yet it has minimal value. 
at one time most languages capitalized nouns; english did until the end 
of the eighteenth century, danish did in the twentieth century. the 
rules of capitalisation vary enormously from one language to another, 
and the "usually caps" comment one sees in dictionaries is enough to 
tell us that the matter is still fluid. and why begin a sentence with 
upper case? it merely duplicates the function of the preceding period, 
or full stop as the british call it. this kind of duplication occurred 
in the russian script until the revolution. letters were followed by a 
hard sign or a soft sign; the revolution abolished the hard sign in most 
places with the claimed result that the works of tolstoy became one 
third shorter. and nothing was lost. hebrew gets along very nicely with 
only a single case, altho it retains a superfluous shape of five letters 
at the end of words, a feature which persists in english in the 
pharmacist's "Px" which is really is just a decorative form of R to 
abbreviate the latin word "recipe!" (Take!) an instruction to the 
pharmacist, and in the dutch ending ij to represent a long i. and then 
there is the question whether the second person pronoun should begin 
with an upper case letter out of respect to the recipient. story has it 
that some russian schoolkids wrote a nice letter to putin and failed to 
capitalize the russian word Vj. putin ordered the school authorities to 
punish the children for being impolite. thank god, our president would 
not do that, in fact, he always colloquially finishes his press 
conferences "thank-youguise" (which is not the same as thank-you, guys 
by the way.)

what stands in the way of my conversion to the lowercasism which I am 
advocating?  mainly, I think, the ongoing pernicious influence of my 
dominies.  when the dutch intelligently abolished the accusative case 
which persisted in dutch only orthographically, and had long been 
abandoned in standard speech, good queen wilhemina announced that she 
had written "den" rather than "de" for the article when grammar required 
it all her life, and she didn't plan to change. i bet she got a vision 
of disapproving schoolmarms. change...can I? Don't bet on it.

alan d. corre

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