How did Lowercase and Uppercase get their names?
I’m sure we can all recall our early school years as we carefully crafted each letter of the alphabet on thickly lined paper with our newly sharpened number 2 pencils. Aa Bb Cc Dd… and so on. These are what we call “Uppercase” and “Lowercase” letters. While these are practically ingrained into us at this point, few people realize how these terms came into being. What people may not know, is that these terms actually come from the old-style printing presses. Yes, you read that right, these terms are hundreds of years old!
The term “case” comes from a literal case, as in a box, that the printing presses would keep the letters inside. These boxes would be housed on, you guessed it, an upper and lower shelf. The uppercase being on the upper shelf, and the lower being on the lower shelf. Simple enough, right? Well, these terms seemed to stick, even after the traditional printing press boxes became fewer and fewer.
Uppercase is the larger of the two cases, and is used at the front of the first word of sentences, as well as in the front of proper nouns. We also call these letters “capital” letters. Another much fancier word for the Uppercase is “Majuscule.”
Majuscule can be defined as “large lettering, either capital or uncial, in which all the letters are usually the same height.”
These larger, special letters are used much less frequently than lowercase, which is why our lowercase case was always on the lower shelf—much easier to access! As well as why our computers default to lowercase type, unless we switch on caps lock, of course.
“Miniscule” or lowercase, is considered to be much easier and faster to write, as well as easier to read—which is why we consider it our default setting in all of our writing, and why it was placed in a more accessible place than its larger counterparts in old printing presses.
An easy way to remember this term is by identifying the word “mini.” This way, you can imagine that the smaller case letters are (Mini)scule because they are mini.
What came first? The Majuscule or the Miniscule?
It is debated whether upper or lowercase came first, but many believe that it was upper that made the first appearance. Over time, the miniscule letters would have found their way into popularity because of their more relaxed and easily shaped forms.
Why go to the trouble?
There are many languages that do not bother with distinguishing an uppercase vs. a lowercase in their writing system. We all know that English loves to make things as complicated as possible—I mean, come on, with all the silent letters, how could a non-native speaker (or even a native for that matter) not get confused?
It is really questionable whether the distinction between uppercase and lowercase is actually necessary, and it could very well be possible that one day we will no longer use certain cases—I’d put my money on ditching the uppercase, as it is already such a protected format for a letter. One day, just maybe, we may find ourselves exclusively using the mini.
AFTER ALL, EXCLUSIVELY USING MAJUSCULE IS PRETTY HARD ON THE EYES.