Uppercase and lowercase

vinceconnare's picture

At the University of Reading in 2000 we never referred to Capital as Uppercase and small letters to lowercase.

The terms are incorrect and referred to typecases and the placements of the metal slugs.

Capitals is the correct term referring to there Roman roots. And small letters is the only real term for those little versions of the original Capitals.

Now we need to know are they Figures (figgers: UK English) or Numerals?

It would be interesting to know what the non-english terms are for Capital letters and small letters?

Miss Tiffany's picture

pff. Semantics. Boring, dogmatic semantics. pff. ;^)

parker's picture

in that case why people say Font and not Typeface?

Miss Tiffany's picture

:D Ok. I should add I was taking the mickie with Vince. Sorry. Didn't mean to sidetrack the conversation.

William Berkson's picture

Hold your horses, Vince. There are a lot of expressions that allude
to old technology. Tiffany was not really climbing on her high horse
about semantics. So you can say upper and lower case and font and
foundry, even though you are just talking about some code in a
program. And 'small letter' ascenders are usually taller than
capitals, so if you want to be nit-picky (nobody actually has to pick
nits, lice eggs, out of anyone's hair, since we've got good
medicines!) that horse won't run either.

I'd like to know about figures vs numerals too, though.

gabrielhl's picture

Small letters could be Capitals set in 2pt, couldn't it? :)

As for the names in other languages, in portuguese we use maiúsculas/minúsculas much more than caixa alta/caixa baixa. My french is rusty, but I think it goes like that, too.

bieler's picture

Vince the terms uppercase and lower aren't "incorrect." Earlier scribal terms were majuscule and minuscule and these are still common in calligraphy. Uppercase and lowercase are printers terms in the sense that the terms are not used before the introduction of printing and do refer to storage and distribution placement. But the words are common usage and definitional. The word type, also a printer's term, itself was not used to describe "letters" until as late as 1701.

"Capitals" and "small letters" seem less useful in that they are less precise and can refer to other things. University of Reading huh?

John Hudson's picture

I prefer numerals, simply because it is more widely understood and has close parallels in so many different languages. Figures seems to have been a specialised Anglo-American typographers term, and awkwardly has other meanings, e.g. diagrams or illustrations in a book.

I prefer uppercase and lowercase to capital and small, similarly, because they are more precise. What's a 'small letter'? 5pt?

The best technical terms are majuscule and miniscule, which of course predate typesetting, but they are not familiar to many people.

Yes, the terminology of upper and lower derives from typesetters' cases, but it is widely used outside of the type business and has been for a very long time. It also figures (oh, look, there's that imprecise word again) in the user interfaces of many applications that non-specialist users employ on a daily basis without difficulty. For instance, my text editor has a 'To Uppercase' text conversion function.

Also, while upper and lower clearly refer to typesetters' cases, we call alphabets that have a functional majuscule/miniscule distinction 'bicameral'. So there is another sense in which our alphabet is 'cased', that is now independent of the origins of the term; there is for instance some evidence that the Crimean 'palochka' letter has recently 'assumed case', i.e. a monocameral letter has become bicameral.

Nick Shinn's picture

>nobody actually has to pick nits, lice eggs, out of anyone’s hair, since we’ve got good

Actually, it is better to nit-pick than douse with pesticide, which is what the active ingredient is in anti-lice shampoo -- and the shampoo is not 100% effective anyway.

hrant's picture

"Capitals" and "small letters"?! How provincial, how base. The ONLY acceptable terms here are Majuscule and Minuscule. Anything else is VERBOTEN, schnell! Pfft on all of you.

> I prefer numerals

Me too. "Figures" and "Numbers" have [more] problems.


Joe Pemberton's picture

In math a figure is an entire number (e.g. 5,340 or 210) but each individual digit (e.g. 4 or 7) is called a numeral.

William Berkson's picture

>douse with pesticide

resisting, resisting, resisting....

William Berkson's picture

>in math a figure is an entire number (e.g. 5,340 or 210) but each individual digit (e.g. 4 or 7) is called a numeral.

Ah ha! the light dawns. Thanks Joe.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Once again, a University program (instead of an art school) has come in handy for something.

Nick Shinn's picture

There is a correspondence between upper case and the way pressing the shift key on a typewriter raises the carriage.

dezcom's picture

Fowah guawds sake, it is numbah :-)


mili's picture

In Finnish the commonly used terms are "iso kirjain" and "pieni kirjain", translated big letter and small letter.

timd's picture

When I did hand setting the case was always set out uppercase on the right and lowercase to the left with numerals, punctuation and spacing sharing the uppercase side, what is the origin of upper and lower?

William Berkson's picture

After body text was always normally set in Linotype or Monotype, hand
setting was only done for display, and so a case didn't need to hold so
much type. So one combined case was used, called in the US the
"California job case". That is what you worked on. But in the days when
all type was hand set, the lower case, most convenient to the hand of
the compositor, held the more common miniscule letters, and the upper
case, where he had to reach, the majescule.

hrant's picture

I thought the California job case predates hotmetal. In fact the legend is that it was invented to take up less room on gold-rush-bound wagons...


TBiddy's picture

Because I'm Black, I don't like how that word looks --->"figgers." I'll take "numerals" instead. :)

Alvin Martinez's picture

It may also depend on whom it is you are speaking with when either choice comes into play. As long as you are not speaking over someone's head, use the appropriate term accordingly. You and I and other designers, wordsmiths, typographers, etc. may know the difference, but the averge joe (ie: Client) may not care and as long as they get the drift, whether you use the terms "uppercase" or "capitals", it is all well and good in the end.

vinceconnare's picture

Well when I wrote figures (said figgers in the UK) I was making a small comment about how Americans say (fig-gurs)

This reminds me of the PostScript name for French quotes: guillemot, ('guillemotleft') which must come from Linotype since it's German or the English name of a bird with duck like feet, and not French which is guillemet.

hrant's picture

From what I know "guillemot" is a legacy typo.


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