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Why do so many people always use lower case letters when using the net?
August 4, 2006 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Why do so many people use all lower case letters on the net and in emails?

When I first begn using email, there were countless warnings about using all caps, screaming, so to speak, for emphasis. Now I find many people in comments to sites on the Net or in writing their blogs, use nothing but lower case letters, even to begin sentences.

Is there any reason why this is happens since traditional writing conventions call for caps for names (oper nouns) and at the beginning of sentences.
posted by Postroad to Computers & Internet (89 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Most letters in any sentence are lower case, and people are lazy, so they all become lower case. They don't even care about names anymore. It drives me up the wall.
posted by jon_kill at 6:39 AM on August 4, 2006


I think it falls in with people that don't proofread their blog entries and forum posts. The writing is so throwaway they end up writing in stream-of-consciousness mode and that's that. Would you agree?
posted by kcm at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2006


maybe you've just came across a statistically improbable amount of e.e cummings fanatics?
posted by oh pollo! at 6:41 AM on August 4, 2006 [5 favorites]


I'd say laziness, primarilly.

Others would call it efficiency. Why interrupt your flow with reaching for a "Shift" key? (Or with grammar? Spelling?)

Of course, there will always be that contingent that sees all-lowercase in an artistic light, as if the lack of capitalization adds a poet's touch.

Well, not just any poet. One poet in particular. Of course, the prevailing notion that Cummings wrote only in lower-case is a refutable generalization.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:45 AM on August 4, 2006


I'm with you jon_kill, I also hate it when people don't capitalize the first person singular. It's just laziness, and frankly I can't quite understand how hard it is to hold down the shift key...
posted by ob at 6:48 AM on August 4, 2006


maybe you've just came across a statistically improbable amount of e.e cummings fanatics?
posted by oh pollo! at 9:41 AM EST on August 4

I was going to say something similar, but you put it in a much more eloquent way than anything that I had come up with. I doff my cap.
posted by ob at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2006


i wrote journals and poems on my computer long before there was an internet and before that i did the same on typewriters. when i write for myself i don't use caps and i never have. when i am i don't use them wither. as a result i occasionally post without them. That said, I typically write in the formal style when I write online these days. still, the lowercase look pleases me and i can touchtype even faster when i don't have to worry about shift. i think that people need to look within themselves if they spend a calorie of energy complaining about this kind of thing... there are a lot of things that are far bigger problems.
posted by n9 at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


um... i do that. i fix my spelling, use punctuation, etc. but i cant be bothered to capitalize, online or in email. unless it something official to a group, or to someone i am not familiar with, then i do it all correctly, but when posting a comment or firing off to my co-workers & friends in email, i just let it rip. sorry if it bother ya, but it bothers me more to perfect everything.
posted by fumbducker at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


With regard to proper names, a lot of the names that people write online are usernames, and they often don't have an initial cap. The convention probably dates back to unix usernames, which were invariably all lowercase.

I also blame the overuse of ellipsis as a conjunction... when you're just writing sentence fragments, you don't tend to use an initial cap to start them... it seems natural enough but now you only have one capital letter in the whole paragraph.
posted by smackfu at 6:57 AM on August 4, 2006


actually i must be drawn to lower case esthetically; all of my icons, filenames, folders , bookmarks, etc. are all lowercase. down with the caps!
posted by fumbducker at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2006


tradition, capitalization, and punctuation are all overrated

proper spelling is not
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:00 AM on August 4, 2006


A lot of people see capitalization as a formal issue with no significant effect on content. So when they're writing in a context in which all they care about is communication with other people like them, they don't worry about it.

I certainly do this in IM, though not in email.
posted by bingo at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


That's fine. I tend to disregard and skip any comments by someone who can't be bothered to capitalize. So we're all happy.
posted by Justinian at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2006


now, you couldnt have skipped my comments, or how would you have responded? but we are all happy.
posted by fumbducker at 7:04 AM on August 4, 2006


Because they are retarded.
posted by schroedinger at 7:05 AM on August 4, 2006


frankly i do it because i don't care about capitalization. as for the lazy comments, it is quiet often more work; moderns applications auto capitalize.
posted by phil at 7:05 AM on August 4, 2006


I was just thinking about this for a moment and I remembered that my dad's handwriting is in upper case only. This was quite weird when I was a kid and he's never had an explanation for it. Fortunately I rarely see his handwriting now, and he seems to know to switch off caps lock when writing emails.
posted by ob at 7:08 AM on August 4, 2006


I have sometimes wondered if there is a correlation between gender and people who don't capitalize. A look through the last 200 archived conversations in my Gmail account indicates that roughly 20% of the e-mails I receive do not have any capitalization, but 100% of those that do not have capitalization are written by women. (The majority of people from whom I receive e-mails have PhDs; some of the women who send me uncapitalized e-mails have PhDs; I'd guess that the split between e-mails received by men and e-mails received by women is 65/35; some women always capitalize properly when sending me e-mails.)

I don't have enough data to draw a real conclusion, though, and because of the groups of people with whom I regularly communicate, the ratios I expressed above may be skewed with respect to the average.
posted by Prospero at 7:08 AM on August 4, 2006


Pick an answer:

1. Laziness - I'm not too keen on this idea. I have friends who write like this on the web who I wouldn't consider lazy in real life.

2. It's Trendy/Edgy - Again, after the first week of this, the novelty has worn off.

3. Because it's a fun - This would probably be my answer. It's the internet and pretty much anything goes.

It really used to drive me up a wall but I've gotten used to it. People do it for various reasons and some may not even be consious of it. If I saw this style on a resume or something then obviously it would be a different issue. So in essence, I think it's just an internet-only phenomena thats used between people who are familiar with each other.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 7:10 AM on August 4, 2006


i BELIEVE IT REPRESENTS PURE SLOTH. fOLKS JUST COULDN'T BE BOTHERED.
posted by caddis at 7:12 AM on August 4, 2006


i fix my spelling, use punctuation, etc. but i cant be bothered to capitalize, online or in email. unless it something ...

Intentional? Fumb ducker either way..
posted by Chuckles at 7:12 AM on August 4, 2006


if it's an informal email or post, i do not capitalize. it's an aesthetic thing for me. likewise, if i'm writing in lowercase, i will not use an ampersand (&) but write out "and" instead. however, i insist on using the ampersand if it's the title of something and i need to capitalize surrounding words (i.e. "Crimson & Clover").

to make things interesting, my handwriting is in all block-capital letters due to some architecture classes i took 10-15 years back.
posted by noloveforned at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2006


Perhaps the number of people who suddenly had to type in order to communicate at the dawn of the www vastly outran the number of touch typists.

Also, capitalization doesn't convey much meaning to the reader, compared to punctuation marks. Surely if you were to read such text aloud, no meaning would be lost.
posted by popechunk at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2006


Postroad: Is there any reason why this is happens since traditional writing conventions call for caps for names (oper nouns) and at the beginning of sentences.

Language (any form of language) changes to fit the medium, mode, and community of the communication. There are no conventions that apply to all media, modes and communities, and people who study computer-mediated communication believe that phenomena involving written language is analogous to phenomena involving spoken language. To provide three hypotheses off the top of my head:

Economy: some language conventions attempt to maximize economy given limitations of the medium. For people who send a lot of email messages, the two limiting factors are time and the use of the keyboard.

Informality: there are distinct differences between formal modes of communication and informal modes of communication. Many informal modes of communication don't use strict capitalization or punctuation.

Community of Practice: in many cases linguistic shifts are reinforced as markers of membership within a particular social grouping.

Any or all of these theories might apply to any particular case. I think the important thing to remember is that "traditional writing conventions" were developed for a particular mode (typically publication within a specific genre), and do not necessarily apply to other modes. It is quite possible for a person to dash off a sticky-note in abbreviated shorthand, use chat language, and write a formal letter, while shifting seamlessly between modes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:22 AM on August 4, 2006


whatever. i am lazy. also, i like the way it looks better than with caps. if at all possible i have my business cards printed in all lower case, even my name.

suck it, haters.
posted by joeblough at 7:23 AM on August 4, 2006


We need a "summon languagehat" card.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2006


It bugs me when my boss sends e-mails with nary a capital letter (while I'm rather obsessive about my business e-mails), but I appreciate that this "style" is helping to stave off capitalizing the first letter of every word. That habit, where seemingly every sentence is deemed to be a title, does drive me up the wall. (You see it in ads, etc. You Know What I'm Talking About, Right?)
posted by Doctor Barnett at 7:32 AM on August 4, 2006


maybe you've just came across a statistically improbable amount of e.e cummings fanatics?
posted by oh pollo! at 9:41 AM EST on August 4

i was going to say something similar, but you put it in a much more eloquent way than anything that i had come up with.
i doff
my
CAP.
posted by faceonmars at 7:33 AM on August 4, 2006


My friend does this all the time in e-mails, and she says it's because when she types in Word, Word will automatically capitalize the starts of sentences so she doesn't bother anymore. (But what about the I in I? And what about names? I don't know.)
posted by easternblot at 7:33 AM on August 4, 2006


I end up doing the lower case thing sometimes because my shift key technique is so poor. I'll ENd up WIth the dreaded TWo CApital LEtter syndrome and spend half my time fixing those errors instead of saying what I'm intending to say.
posted by dr. fresh at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2006


Community of Practice: in many cases linguistic shifts are reinforced as markers of membership within a particular social grouping.

And we have a winner!

"ugh, capital letters. you're such a conformist."
posted by Chuckles at 7:35 AM on August 4, 2006


I'd like to echo the 'aesthetic' reasoning. I don't capitalize a lot of the time, and the analog to oral communication and more laid back approach allows me to; capitalization provides a bare minimum of extra information to the reader, and except for names that could be other words, none at all that isn't easily assumed from context. It's purely a formality!

I just think it looks better, and when pressed for a better reason, I say that all the small letters flow together Better Than Being Interrupted Occaisonally By Large Ones. I have also come into contact with some people (much fewer than the all-lowercase crowd) who actually do capitalize every word in a sentence. THAT is hideous.

Anyhow, I never mix capitalization styles, and if I find myself switching from one to another in an informal communication, I'll go back and correct myself (it's aesthetic people!). Furthermore, I would never use it in any reasonably formal communication, along with using *certain marks* for emphasis and to convey other sub-contextual meanings.

Oh, and all you people (that's right, I said it, you people) who think metafilter is formal enough to warrant correct capitalization? You can shove off.
posted by kaytwo at 7:38 AM on August 4, 2006


Punctuation is useful, spelling helps, but for what purpose do we put things in capitals except tradition?
I can't see why it makes people angry, rude even.
Face it. Diversity in writing styles is happening, it's growing, and the correct way of writing today could well be the 'wrong' way tomorrow.
posted by razzman at 7:43 AM on August 4, 2006


aT LeAsT ! DoNt DO tHiS
posted by fumbducker at 7:43 AM on August 4, 2006


If I'm posting on a public forum (like this one), I capitalize properly. It lends credibility to my words.

If I'm sending an IM or e-mail to a friend, I don't bother with the shift key very much at all. Online communication with friends is more like talking than writing, so I put most of my focus on the content of what I say rather than how it looks. Same with blog entries. Capitalization is just one more thing to think about while I'm putting my thoughts into words, so I don't bother with doing it correctly.

When I avoid the shift key in those situations, I'm mostly being lazy. But also, I am an advertising proofreader, so I spend a lot of time at work debating arbitrary capitalization; the part of my brain that deals with that shuts off when I'm casually communicating with friends. I reserve my capitalization brain cells for when I really need them.
posted by phatkitten at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2006


I started a typing course in summer school many years ago, but dropped it and went to Montreal for the summer instead. I still can't touch type, though I'm a pretty good two fingered typist.

I use standard capitalization most of the time online, with the only exceptions being chat (where my typos are bad enough without fumbling to capitalize appropriately) and referring to people with lowercase usernames. It just feels right to me.

But I'm usually not bothered by other people using lower case in informal online communication as long as they're using decent grammar, punctuation and line spacing. Random capitalization, the use of the ellipse as the only punctuation, and great clots of text uninterrupted by white space, or using CR to create a series of short, extremely ragged lines instead of longer paragraphs with some white space, is much more likely to make me flinch and stop reading than consistent use of lower case by an otherwise competent writer.
posted by maudlin at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2006


I definitely think capitalizing the first word in a sentence helps reading comprehension when scanning. It's easier to see a capital letter than a period (IMHO).
posted by pardonyou? at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2006


make that "are much more likely to make me flinch ...".
posted by maudlin at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2006


do not read this.
posted by pointilist at 7:53 AM on August 4, 2006


Wow, those who don't like capitalizing are getting pretty defensive. Look, if you don't want to capitalize that's fine, but I really feel a difference when I read: "I think" as opposed to: "i think". Like phatkitten says, it lends credibility, but if you don't like capitalization that's fine, but I don't think it warrants such a defensive attitude.
posted by ob at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2006


People who don't capitalize think that their time is more important than the effect they have on their audience.

These people are all going to burn in Hell.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:08 AM on August 4, 2006


Archie cannot reach two keys at the same time . . .
posted by uspommie at 8:14 AM on August 4, 2006


An explanation for some of the lower case emails could be that people are "typing" on their cell phones. Me, I capitalize at the proper places when using a regular keyboard, but on a cell phone keypad, I can't be bothered to toggle through an extra cycle of letters. But if not doing so could affect the reader's understanding of the sentence, I'll make the effort.

I'm just sayin'.
posted by QueSeraSera at 8:21 AM on August 4, 2006


I tend to use proper grammar and capitalize everything that should be, but sometimes I'm in a hurry, or sometimes I just get lazy.

(However, I am an e. e. cummings fan, and always sign or print my name with lowercase letters. "robyn robertson" as opposed to "Robin Robertson".)
posted by Glitter Ninja at 8:21 AM on August 4, 2006


i rarely use capital letters online because im lazy, i rarely say anything worth the effort of presenting it properly, and it drives uptight people nuts.

also ee cummings is the bomb, dogg
posted by keswick at 8:21 AM on August 4, 2006


It's interesting that you notice it more now. It seems to me that more people wrote in lower case when the internet was young(er), and I've always thought it was leftover from an early fad, perhaps from IRC and AOL chatrooms. My first experience with the internet was in college (1995). I got an email from a girl I had known in high school. It might have been my first email? And she wrote in all lower-case. And, no joke, I thought that's how you were SUPPOSED to communicate on this fancy new technology. ha. It took me weeks to adjust my writing, and I had to make an effort not to capitalize appropriately. And then it just stuck. I've only switched back to the correct way in the past year or so, when I've started writing here, and to the more "professional-type" colleagues that I have now.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2006


lends credibility? that's ridiculous. form over function. when you talk, how do you manage to have any credibility at all? or did you figure out some way to capitalize your speech?

how about languages that have no capitals, like japanese? what then? no credibility i guess.

IMHO there's a place for "proper" writing but the internets is not that place.

defensive? let's review the first few comments:

"...it drives me up a wall"
"...writing is so throwaway..."
"i hate it... can't understand..."

how did you expect us e.e. cummings fans to react?
posted by joeblough at 8:23 AM on August 4, 2006


Also, capitalization doesn't convey much meaning to the reader, compared to punctuation marks. Surely if you were to read such text aloud, no meaning would be lost.

By this standard, punctuation doesn't carry a tremendous amount of meaning to the reader, either, as it can be variably interpreted when read out loud. Both punctuation and capitalization work together as an aid to the eye, acting as little signposts to keep text from looking like a jumbled mess.

i used to enjoy not capitalizing i. i grew out of it.
posted by desuetude at 8:30 AM on August 4, 2006


people who write in all lower case are lazy good-for-nothing punks.


PEOPLE WHO WRITE IN ALL UPPERCASE ARE LOUDMOUTH BLOWHARDS WHO WANT TO SHOW THEIR SUPERIORITY.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:32 AM on August 4, 2006


It's safe to draw one conclusion about people who don't use proper capitalization and punctuation online. They don't care about my opinion of them.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:34 AM on August 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


thanks. lots of nice thoughts here. but if cap for proper noun nothing but a convention then so too is spacing and/block indets for new paragraphs. is it then ok to run 10 paragraphs together into what seems one long single one?
posted by Postroad at 8:47 AM on August 4, 2006


capitalization signals the divide between personal/casual and impersonal/professional with me. i will even go back and uncapitalize letters Outlook has capitalized for me in order to get what i want.

see me here? right now? i'm chillin' out, metafilter.
posted by soma lkzx at 8:47 AM on August 4, 2006



I'm with you jon_kill, I also hate it when people don't capitalize the first person singular. It's just laziness, and frankly I can't quite understand how hard it is to hold down the shift key...
posted by ob


And yet, your user name isn't capitalized. That was one of the first things I noticed when I landed on Metafilter: why all the lower case names? Is it as smackfu says? With regard to proper names, a lot of the names that people write online are usernames, and they often don't have an initial cap. The convention probably dates back to unix usernames, which were invariably all lowercase.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2006


I use standard capitalization on my blog, in most emails, and on sites like MetaFilter. I don't use it on more instantaneous mediums, like IRC or instant messaging. I think part of that is to make up for the fact that IM isn't quite instant, so we make short-cuts to make it faster. See also: brb, lol, etc.

As for people who never use capitalization online, I think a lot of them tend to be younger and probably started using the Internet for instant messaging first and discovered the WWW later, and brought the norms of IM into their blogs and dreaded MySpace pages.

The Internet is an interesting thing, if only because it has brought us new registers for the written word. It used to be primarily formal, with strict codes of usage, but now it is used for so many informal things — text messaging, instant messaging, bulletin boards, blogs, myspace, quick little emails. These are the written equivalent of calling someone up and saying, "Hey buddy, whatcha doin'?" It's not proper English, but it is situation-appropriate.

The "I can't understand/refuse to read posts without capitalization" crew seem equivalent to someone who would insist that they can't understand slang or informal speech. Of course you can. It's a little bit different, but you can do it, and you can do it without making character judgements.
posted by heatherann at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2006


Uppercase letters suck. They're a huge hack and they should be done away with since they serve no real purpose except to reinforce the general master/slave synthesis. They make things harder, not easier to read because they're visually jarring--but that's the point dominance can only be achieved through repetitive application of pain. Down with tyranny!
posted by nixerman at 8:59 AM on August 4, 2006


lends credibility? that's ridiculous. form over function. when you talk, how do you manage to have any credibility at all? or did you figure out some way to capitalize your speech?

FYI, speech and writing are not the same thing.

Credibility is not something the writer necessarily gives, but it is perceived by a reader who finds capitalization important. Many people are bothered by capital-less writing -- note how many people in this thread consider caps to be important. Close to none are bothered by proper capitalization. If you want to be taken seriously by people who want to see those capital letters, then use them. It's about knowing your audience and caring what they think.

Would you turn in an academic paper that is written entirely in lowercase? Would you expect a stuffy professor to take you seriously if you're not following the formal guidelines of the language?

how about languages that have no capitals, like japanese? what then? no credibility i guess.

This is an invalid argument; you can't capitalize words in a language that has no capacity for it. Obviously. Languages have different guidelines for formal use; capitalization happens to be one for the English language.
posted by phatkitten at 9:01 AM on August 4, 2006


Sloth, ignorance, and pretension. There are no other explanations.
posted by LarryC at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2006


We need a "summon languagehat" card.

This falls under psychology rather than linguistics, so I have no special expertise. My guess would be laziness or rebelliousness, depending on the person.

lends credibility? that's ridiculous. form over function.


No, that's ridiculous. Credibility is in the eyes of the reader, and whether you like it or not, many people (including me) take someone less seriously if they don't bother to write in accepted fashion. It may be unfair, but there it is.

I could say more, but phatkitten did it for me.
posted by languagehat at 9:14 AM on August 4, 2006


Interestingly, although once upon a time I was moderately obsessive about proper capitalization and punctuation in all contexts, capitalization has gradually begun to take on an entirely different tone than uncapitalized text. Like others here, I still use it for formal settings where I want my words to be taken seriously, but in IM conversations it seems like wearing a button-down shirt while I'm hanging out with a bunch of friends wearing T-shirts, or perhaps like using the formal usted rather than the informal tu. I think this is a nascent netiquette convention, similar to the difference between ALL CAPS and normal writing.

At the moment I tend to mix caps and non-caps indiscriminately in informal contexts such as IM and short, social emails. Bad spelling still drives me insane, tho.

("tho" and "thru", on the other hand, are affectations I picked up a while back after reading a book about phonetic spelling and artificial languages. I am sure that there is someone here who will be driven equally insane by them.)
posted by fermion at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2006


The "I can't understand/refuse to read posts without capitalization" crew seem equivalent to someone who would insist that they can't understand slang or informal speech.

Well not really. Caps make it easier to parse a sentence. It is neither easier nor harder to understand informal speech unless it is informal speech in a language you are unfamiliar with, in which case expecting someone to speak a more standard idiom wouldn't be unreasonable, you know, assuming they want to communicate.

I find it harder to read sentences in which there are no caps (and very often shoddy punctuation). So I don't. And I just assume that the person typing cases more about her own ease than mine. And go on my merry way. I don't think she is a Bad Person, but nor do I think what she says is so important that it's worth the extra effort. After all, it's just the Internet.
posted by dame at 9:32 AM on August 4, 2006


I agree, that people are just being lazy (not that there's anything wrong with it).

But what annoys me far more often is when people capitalize when spelling conventions dictate that they shouldn't. (i.e. I talked to my Dad, it was Spring of 1996).

so, i guess i'm more of a spelling freak than anything.
posted by Pocahontas at 9:32 AM on August 4, 2006


It's hard to read for those of us who don't read individual letters but read by wordshape instead. Capitals make visual stops to ideas and sentences that I find indispensable in text. It takes me much so longer to read a non-capitalized paragraph that I often just skip them completely.

It's interesting to contrast this with careless spellers (such as myself). Spelling mistakes, as long as the word "looks right", I often don't even see, so I care much less about them. I suspect most of the people saying "capitalization, meh" get much more bothered by misspellings because of the different ways we read text.
posted by bonehead at 9:35 AM on August 4, 2006


I think something that has accelerated the use of all-lower-case is the variety of input devices people use nowadays. I suspect that there are people who favor proper capitalization and use it when typing on a standard keyboard, but when they switch to a blackberry/cellphone can no longer summon the discipline to do so.

In addition there is an ever-growing number of people with information technology experience, and the use of some tools can affect the way capitalization is used or viewed. In some programming languages you must use all lower case unless referring to a reserved word, for example. In many databases it doesn't matter how you enter the data, it is all stored as capitals. And of course many online tools--like Google-- don't care if you use capitals or not. In these environments no one will ever read what you wrote for correctness--you might as well not be writing in the old-fashioned sense of the word at all.

Consequently people today are exposed to more environments in which the rules of capitalization are either different or ignored, and that makes it easier to ignore them in traditional writing--meaning writing primarily used to communicate with another human being.

I do agree that capitalization makes sentences easier to read, and I prefer it, but I wonder if we might all get used to the lack of it in time. In other words it might only be easier to read because we're used to it--I'm not suggesting I believe this, just that I could be convinced and I'd be interested to know if there are any practical studies on the subject.

For example, there have apparently been studies demonstrating that it's easier to read text that is printed with a "ragged right" margin, as opposed to a right justified margin. Justified right actually looks better when you're looking at the page as a whole, but is harder to read. It's not a matter of what you're used to--it really is more efficient to read ragged right text.

I wonder if that is also the case with capitalization, or if we'll all get used to it later?
posted by lockedroomguy at 9:41 AM on August 4, 2006


FYI, speech and writing are not the same thing.

yeah, thanks for that, i had no idea.

my point about japanese and speech was actually the same as languagehat's response: capitalization is a convention in written english. however, it's clearly not necessary for the comprehension of language, nor is it present in every written language. if capitalization confers a sense of credibility or authority to written language, then its only a matter of perception. whether or not the writer actually has credibility or authority is entirely beside the point, and in my worldview can be more accurately determined by the content of the writing rather than the mechanics of how it was written. to discount someone's ideas because they do not conform to a standard seems a bit narrowminded to me. but whatever! to each his own.

in the "real world" the only question/concept people take seriously is this: "can this person make money for me?" i assure you that all my employer cares about is that i can write code and turn ideas into money. i don't need to impress a professor, i just need to remain productive and communicate my ideas effectively. for 15 years i've been writing code, specs, managing people, and writing emails in all lower case. i still have a job, i've designed several successful products, and people respect me where i work.

glad to hear that the Great Languagehat takes me less seriously because i don't occasionally move my left pinky over and depress one of the keys on my keyboard. good thing i work with sane people instead of capitalization nazis!
posted by joeblough at 9:47 AM on August 4, 2006


It lends credibility to my words.

Bravo!

It seems to me that more people wrote in lower case when the internet was young(er)

Ah. But you see, some of us go even further back -- for example, Hollerith punch-cards where the input mechanism for the first decade of my computer usage. Even in the DOS age, there was no case, the default was all caps. (I think this is why the upper-case email thing persists -- it's just the way computers do, to some people). It was such a revelation when word processors became available -- suddenly, I could make my writing look like the text in books, magazines and newspapers. (Notable exception: word balloons in the comics, where all caps remains the only way to go.) Any writer wants to emulate the authors they most admire. Thus, with HTML markup, things got even better -- finally, unlike with a typewriter, I could write with italics, just like JD Salinger.

So IMO, ignoring the shift key just makes your writing look childish -- inexperienced kid stuff.

(But a dear friend of my same vintage uses that technique as an homage to archy and mehitabel.)

posted by Rash at 9:58 AM on August 4, 2006


I think it's funny that using all lower-case could be construed as being lazy, whereas refusing to read all lower-case, or insisting that proper capitalization is "easier to read" and therefore "better" is also pretty lazy.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2006


if capitalization confers a sense of credibility or authority to written language, then its only a matter of perception.

As an aside, there are more aspects to capitalization than have been discussed in this thread.

For example:
- phoenix (the bird) vs. Phoenix (the city)
- crystal (what a chandelier is made of) vs. Crystal (a girl's name)
- the rules (of a game) vs. The Rules (a book)
- (the letter) i vs. (me, myself and) I

In cases like these, capitalization affects the meaning of certain words, and therefore is an aspect of spelling -- not just a matter of perceived credibility.


i don't need to impress a professor, i just need to remain productive and communicate my ideas effectively. for 15 years i've been writing code, specs, managing people, and writing emails in all lower case. i still have a job, i've designed several successful products, and people respect me where i work.

If you've never capitalized a word in your life, then I salute you.

The only way writing in all lowercase would lose you a job is if you were an editor/proofreader. In other areas of work, it's less important, and how you treat your words would not be the sole basis of people's respect for you. If your writings never leave your circle of coworkers, you may as well rip the shift key off your keyboard if it's never affected your work. But if the specs you write have to reach a larger audience and get printed onto packaging or in a booklet or whatever, I guarantee you someone will be assigned the task of properly capitalizing your writing. That's just how it is. People do care about the most proper way to use language, even if you don't. That's why there are rules in the first place.

A language's rules vary in importance, and whether certain ones need to be respected depends on the arena they are used in -- and, in keeping with the original question of this thread, the Internet is not necessarily one of those arenas. It is a minor enough convention of English that it can be ignored 99% of the time without affecting meaning, but it is still an important enough aspect of the language that (a) there are rules about it in the first place and (b) people will staunchly defend said rules.
posted by phatkitten at 10:34 AM on August 4, 2006


I capitalize because I'm well trained. It's a lot slower to type though, so I'm tempted not to.

As far as most things like spelling and punctuation go, I tend to be a free thinker. As long as I can determine the meaning of what it written, I don't really care. I try to do my best in what I write, I'm not sure if I follow all of the rules, but I think they are pretty silly for the most part.

capitalization, speling and punctuation are all kind of random rules, most words in english have had many variable spellings over the course of their history. I think that capitalization is probably on it's way out, especially as the text message generation gets older.
posted by jefeweiss at 10:38 AM on August 4, 2006


There. I just did it. I feel so dirty.

RULES PEOPLE! THERE ARE RULES! FOLLOW THEM KTHXBYE!

but seriously, i agree with jefeweiss that probably caps are headed out the door. i was going to bring up the point that arguing about caps is a little like the dictionary company (american heritage?) that won't add new words/slang/vernacular to their dictionary because THEY AREN'T WORDS! NOT UNTIL OLD WHITE MEN IN SUITS SAY THEY ARE!!
posted by joeblough at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2006


Probably the same reason you see "teh": Instant Messaging

To converse in a way that isn't glacial, you kind of have to blast the keys and sometimes for long stretches. The keyboard is a torture device that stands in the way of our internal monologe and slows us down. Sometimes I just wanna get these damn thoughts out of my head because I'm sick of slowly saying the same sentence in my head.

Hell, I can read through typos and sometimes ask others to as well. *+ correction always seemed like a waste of time for me.

I'd rather get my point across than waste my own time correcting i->I when the person is going to think "him" regardless of which I send.

Also, it hurts my pinky to reach the shift key. Yes I have posture and desk issues but hitting a capital letter means hitting two keys at once.
posted by Brainy at 10:59 AM on August 4, 2006


lately the biggest reason for my irregular capitalization is the glee i get from the fact that it actually irritates some people. That's just so cute.

for instance:

many people (including me) take someone less seriously if they don't bother to write in accepted fashion. It may be unfair, but there it is.

see, that? with all the implicit (though likely unintentional) imperialism? that just erases any future desire i may have ever had for languagehat to take me seriously. but it still tickles me to no end, somehow.

also, not going for the shift key means less strain, and i type for a living. so, those who are annoyed, start paying me, and i'll start being sure to capitalize for you.
posted by poweredbybeard at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2006


as for me, i work in publishing and have to worry about grammar and spelling and proper this and that all day and into the night.

on my blog and in emails to friends, i just don't give a rat's ass. because the meaning gets across (most of the time) with out capitals.

oh, and, since i type all day, constantly hitting shift puts a lot of strain on the ol' hands and i like to minimize that when i can.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:45 AM on August 4, 2006


but seriously, i agree with jefeweiss that probably caps are headed out the door.

I think that capitalization conventions will continue to evolve and shift, but don't hold your breath for the End Of Capital Letters. Capital letters and lowercase letters have been combined in text since the eighth century, and there is some sort of capitalization convention in every language that uses the Roman alphabet. I don't think the mighty internets is going to eradicate the practice anytime soon.
posted by desuetude at 12:10 PM on August 4, 2006


many people (including me) take someone less seriously if they don't bother to write in accepted fashion. It may be unfair, but there it is.

see, that? with all the implicit (though likely unintentional) imperialism? that just erases any future desire i may have ever had for languagehat to take me seriously. but it still tickles me to no end, somehow.


OK, I obviously didn't make myself clear, so let's try again.

I am not saying I think people who don't capitalize (or spell correctly or whatever) are dummies.

I am not saying I will not listen to them.

I am not saying my feelings are rational; obviously plenty of people who don't write "correctly" are just as smart and worth listening to as those who do (and I make that point frequently around here).

I am not in any sense an imperialist.

What I am saying is that for whatever reason (obviously including hefty doses of imperialist normalizing elitist indoctrination in elementary school) many people, including me, raise our eyebrows a tad when we see text done in blatantly nonconforming ways and tend to take it a little less seriously. (I'm not talking about text by people who clearly don't know English well or haven't had much education, I'm talking about text by people who seem to be influenced either by immersion in E.E. Cummings or sophomore "stick it to the Man" rebelliousness.) Doesn't mean those people are idiots. But come on, you know all this; it's disingenuous to insist on showing how kewl and/or lazy you are and then act all shocked and hurt when people take you less seriously. It's like wearing ripped jeans and a FUCK YOU t-shirt and complaining that people don't take you seriously.


Oh, and it's "tickles me no end," not "to no end."
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on August 4, 2006


"With regard to proper names, a lot of the names that people write online are usernames, and they often don't have an initial cap. The convention probably dates back to unix usernames, which were invariably all lowercase."

That's exactly right. And note that my name is 8 letters long -- because the limit for usernames on the first unix system I ever had an account on was eight characters. On local BBSes, which didn't have such a limit, I was "Little Nemo" but when I got a University of Washington account, I had to shorten it. I've just used that name ever since.

When I am writing a sentence with a lower-cased name at the beginning, I usually start the sentence with the name in lower case, even when I'd otherwise use upper case. "Litlnemo," to me, just looks weird. "litlnemo" is the correct spelling.

I do try to capitalize correctly in posts in places such as MeFi or my blog. In posts on my own BBS (which is a very chatty sort of place), I don't bother -- but I almost always cap "I" because it looks so junior high not to. In email, it varies depending on whom I'm replying to. The spouse? I'll probably not bother to cap. The boss? Capitalization.
posted by litlnemo at 1:14 PM on August 4, 2006


Is it as smackfu says? With regard to proper names, a lot of the names that people write online are usernames, and they often don't have an initial cap. The convention probably dates back to unix usernames, which were invariably all lowercase.

Yes, this is exactly what it is, unix.

Others may obviously be following the pattern without knowing where it comes from but that's it.

I still find myself writing emails in lowercase from time to time and having to go back and put the caps in to keep non-geeks happy. (well, and look more professional, communicate more clearly, etc..)

Lower case still looks cleaner, more elegant, and reliable to me, maybe in part due to unix's case sensitivity and the trivial but time-wasting annoyance caused by using uppercase and forgetting where and how it was used.
posted by scheptech at 1:15 PM on August 4, 2006


But come on, you know all this; it's disingenuous to insist on showing how kewl and/or lazy you are and then act all shocked and hurt when people take you less seriously. It's like wearing ripped jeans and a FUCK YOU t-shirt and complaining that people don't take you seriously.

I agree with this completely. I think there's just a disagreement about what the linguistic dress-code is for many parts of the internet. For me, instant messaging feels like a jeans-and-t-shirt no-capitals-required zone, but blogging and MeFi don't. Other people feel differently.
posted by heatherann at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2006


It's like wearing ripped jeans and a FUCK YOU t-shirt and complaining that people don't take you seriously.

it really isn't.

there's a considerable difference between (a) behaviour intended to get a rise out of people and (b) failing to care if people go to the trouble of getting a rise out of themselves due to your inaction on some issue of questionable importance.

and it's not like i fail to capitalize on CV cover letters or something. it's not some sophomoric rebellion, it's a failure to give a damn about an arbitrary rule that doesn't seem to have any effect on the efficacy of the language itself when there are no external pressures placed on me to follow it.

that's essentially my approach to life: follow the rules when they're looking. anything beyond that, the only time you're wasting is your own.

sorry for implying you were an imperialist, that was uncalled for. but that slope still looks pretty slippery from here.
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:24 PM on August 4, 2006


that's essentially my approach to life: follow the rules when they're looking. anything beyond that, the only time you're wasting is your own.

Mine too. And it's not like I obsessively follow the capitalization rules; when I'm entering text into Google (say), then I do it in all lower case, because it genuinely makes no difference and why expend the extra energy? I guess the difference between us is that this is a space where I feel like dressing up to make an impression (except when I'm cracking a joke or something), whereas to you it's a space where you can be freeform because nobody can fire you for it. Which is fine! Again, I'm not saying my way is the right way, just pointing out that (fairly or unfairly) it does make a difference how you dress.
posted by languagehat at 2:00 PM on August 4, 2006


Oh, and thanks for the apology. Much appreciated.

*hums the Internationale*
posted by languagehat at 2:01 PM on August 4, 2006


there's a considerable difference between (a) behaviour intended to get a rise out of people and (b) failing to care if people go to the trouble of getting a rise out of themselves due to your inaction on some issue of questionable importance.

Fine. It's like wearing a ripped jeans and a:
[pick any combination] Budweiser/Meet the Fockers/Celine Dion/middriff-baring/backwards and inside-out t-shirt...

...and complaining that people don't take you seriously.
posted by desuetude at 2:03 PM on August 4, 2006


Most of the people I know who write in all lowercase are either hunt-and-peck typists, instant message addicts, or have no attention span. It's better than ALLCAPS, but still vexes me.

OUT OF PROTEST, ALL OF MY E-MAILS WILL NOW BE IN SMALL-CAPS.
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:18 PM on August 4, 2006


My BlackBerry capitalizes automagically.

It's partially Unix, and partially something *no one mentioned in 88 comments* (at least as regards the web): CSS makes it easy, so the e.e. fans can do it automatically, even if they don't *type* it that way.
posted by baylink at 3:29 PM on August 4, 2006


Postroad: thanks. lots of nice thoughts here. but if cap for proper noun nothing but a convention then so too is spacing and/block indets for new paragraphs. is it then ok to run 10 paragraphs together into what seems one long single one?

If it is expected by the medium, mode, and community of the communication, then yes.

I can't think of any cases where that would be the case though.

languagehat: I guess my exposure to this is through people who study sociolinguistics using computer-mediated communication.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:12 PM on August 4, 2006


see, that? with all the implicit (though likely unintentional) imperialism? that just erases any future desire i may have ever had for languagehat to take me seriously. but it still tickles me to no end, somehow.
I suspect a large number of MeFites are hiring managers. I also suspect that, very nearly without exception, hiring managers immediately dismiss anyone who expresses themselves as you do. I know I do, but, then, I'm a professional technical writer.

Someone who writes without using capital letters and with a clear disregard for grammar and sentence structure is, by so doing, deliberately placing themselves into a demographic that's been derided repeatedly as "the MySpace crowd". And here's why it counts: it's unfair, it's judgemental, and maybe even imperialistic, but you are surely being judged. And, unfortunately, in this here capitalistic society we've got, unless you're independently wealthy, you're going to have to work for someone.

That person may very likely be me, or someone like me. It's in your best interests to put your best foot forward when expressing yourself in writing, not least because in the Google era, chances are excellent that everything you've written online is fair game when it comes to evaluating you. If you think your potential employers won't discover your MetaFilter writings, you may be unpleasantly surprised.

This is, of course, my opinion, and worth precisely nothing to you. You clearly don't care what we think.
posted by scrump at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2006


I think the lack of formal typing training has a lot to do with it. I can touch type, but only from years of practice and shitty data entry jobs, I was never taught. Most computer programmers I know type with three or four fingers. Trained typists can go almost as fast as they think. Whereas untrained typists find shift keys hard. That plus laziness and a misguided idea that presentation doesn't matter.

The thing that surprises me is the number of times I get business emails without capitalisation. Every time that happens I stop doing business with that person (where possible). You can't be bothered communicating properly with me, I can't be bothered giving you my money. And thinking back over the past year every person I've had issues with professionally sent me unformatted emails (and vice versa). It seems to be a good indication of an underlying lack of care.

Same goes for places like this, if you can't be bothered making your writing readable (and those uncapitalised large paragraphs up there really are unreadable), I can't be bothered reading it. You can't care very much about being read if you put that little effort in. Huge unparagraphed chunks of text fall into the same category.
posted by shelleycat at 6:09 PM on August 4, 2006


I send my parents e-mails without using capital letters because it drives them bonkers. There are very few ways to drive them bonkers from the other side of the country without being deliberately insulting or making up stories about hideously unsuitable boyfriends, so I cherish those I find.
posted by posadnitsa at 6:31 PM on August 4, 2006


Sloth, ignorance, and pretension. There are no other explanations.

You forgot speed. I drop capitals when I'm using IM or chat. I used to type everything in lower case but found that it annoyed people. I've caved into "THE MAN" and use capitals in email, my blog and all other correspondence.
posted by deborah at 6:37 PM on August 4, 2006


Oh, if you want to see annoying -- there was a BBS user around here named PsYcHo ChIcKeN who tYpEd EvErYtHiNg LiKe ThIs. Thus leading to the "PsYcHo ChIcKeN filter" in the BBS software I (and many other people) ran, which, if you activated the "twit bit" on an annoying user, would display everything on the BBS to them lIkE tHaT.

Then there was the guy Who Posted Everything Like This And Would Not Stop Doing It Even Though People Complained.
posted by litlnemo at 8:51 PM on August 4, 2006


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