• Okay, I admit this one is mostly a pet peeve, and I feel bad even bringing it up, as some of my favourite people indulge, but it’s time I took a side: I believe it is silly to write without capital letters.

    (1) THE FORMAL CASE

    Personally, whenever I read an email message expunged of capital letters, unless the communication came via a phone that lacks easy capitalization, the message seems to me to be encumbered by laziness. The writer does not seem to feel that I, as a reader, deserve the expense of effort they would have needed to utilize their SHIFT key.

    But who am I to judge? If my fellow email corresponders choose to type without grammar, spell check, or capital letters, that is their right. Perhaps they enjoy letting the letters fall where they may without the confines of “correctness.” And maybe in particular social communication circles, going uncapitalized is simply the preference of the group because it is perceived as easygoing.

    Nevertheless, I think it is worth noting that, in certain cases, following some rules of language can be a way of showing our correspondents that we respect them—kind of like not accentuating a burp during a dinner party. And so the more formal, and the less we know someone, the more I think such belches of grammar and spelling can stand out.

    I have recently witnessed job applications in which candidates omitted capital letters from their cover letters. Baffle me! Can they really expect a professional agency to take them seriously if they don’t take themselves seriously enough to apply the occasional SHIFT key to our initial interaction? Should the employer also expect a high five instead of a handshake during the interview?

    (2) THE PET PEEVE CASE

    Now—just for fun—I’m going to try to make the case against a capital-free existence even in personal correspondence. In my humble suspicion, capital letters have a useful function in our language: I think they help to alert the reader to natural punctuation breaks in our paragraphs, and so make our writing easier to digest on the first pass.

    I’m in favour of using original styles to communicate material, and so I wouldn’t make this argument if I could see a single benefit to excluding capital letters.

    As far as I can tell, there are four possible arguments for a expunging the SHIFT key from one’s typing vocabulary:

    (2.1) EASE

    Perhaps non-capitalizers think that the SHIFT key is far too labour-intensive given its modest gains. As you wish: if the shift-free genuinely believe that pressing an extra button once or twice a sentence is a significant waste of time and calories, then I support their decision. However, I do request that they check their data. When I’m at my keyboard, one finger hits the SHIFT key while the others keep on typing, so I don’t actually find shifting takes any extra time, nor in fact, many extra calories (indeed, my shifting finger does not seem any more buff than my non-shifting fingers).

    (2.2) TREND/HABIT

    It seems some have cut capitals from their emails because of the text-messaging boom. When one is typing on one’s small phone, capital letters are often more difficult to employ, and so, I think, much more acceptable to exclude. As a result, given the popularity of non-CAPS-texting, capital letters may seem passé to some even when they’re easy to apply. Moreover, because people are used to going capital-free in text messages, they may argue that it’s simpler to maintain that habit in emailing as well.

    My argument here would be that text messaging is a form of communication shorthand. Since each letter costs a lot more energy to type on a phone, it’s all about finding the simplest message to get your point across. “c u b4 the show,” for instance, gets “See you before the show” done on a smaller budget. That makes sense to me. Similarly, in the past, Morse Code left many words out to send the most pertinent information; this does not mean, though, that when famous sea captains wrote tell-all books about their experiences, they wrote in simplified beeps of language. No, it was merely the Morse medium that gave them that exemption. The definitive convenience within one does not have to undermine quality of the other.

    (2.3) PERSONALITY

    Probably the most common explanation for removing capitals from one’s writing is that of personality. Anti-capital snobs believe that they have a unique flavour of being that is illustrated by their lack of oversized letters. I do not intend such a shiftless existence any harm, but I must ask the practitioners of this theory if they are aware that many people have used the very same “unique” same small-lettered technique before them.

    (Indeed, I understand that the now expired poet, e.e. cummings, was one of the first to go capital-free. Most commonly, he de-capitalized his poetry and sometimes signed his name sans capitals. Some speculate, however, that he offered the latter as a gesture of humility as opposed to a recommendation for others to do the same.)

    Not that things worth doing have to be unique or original (good manners, for instance), but, if one’s reason for excommunicating the capital letter is because they think it illuminates an originality of personality, I must suggest that it does not.

    (2.4) AESTHETICS

    A friend of mine has explained that she uses the no-capital system because she likes the look of it. Fair enough. The only thing I can say to her is that most of the time one’s written words are meant for other people to read, so might it not be worth considering whether they enjoy such diminutive lettering, too? Moreover, given that written language is generally meant for communication, does she not worry at all that she might be giving up clarity for the sake of looks? Or is going capital-free the ultimate victory of fashion over substance?

    (3) THE COUNTER CASE

    For those who would like to take me down via an appeal to hypocrisy, I freely acknowledge that I have probably made at least one grammatical error somewhere in this message. However, please note that I have specifically tried to avoid such mistakes. In contrast when one goes capital-free, one is choosing to resist.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 10:33 AM

  • 7 Responses

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    • e.e. cummings Says:

      hello seth, loved your blog! there are some really great points that i will try to incorporate into my own writing asap 😉 lol. g2g. cu l8tr. ttyl.

    • Tom Durrie Says:

      Bravo to e.e.cummings! We should have left lower-case predominance to him, where it actually means something.
      Tom

    • Vanessa Says:

      HERE, HERE!

    • Vanessa Says:

      Why didn’t e.e. drop the punctuation while he was at it?
      e e cummings is much nicer if you ask me.
      Plus it saved me so much time not having to hit those 2 extra keys.
      Phew, I need a nap after typing all this.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Well put, e.e. cummings, TomD, and Vanessa.

      e.e., thanks for your support! If you get a chance, could you explain in more detail what made you decide to drop capitals in the first place? (If it was just for an early form of text messaging, please make up a more artistically satisfying reason.)

      Tom, (per above) I am actually ignorant of mr. cummings’s reasons for excommunicating capital letters, but I agree – as you seem to be suggesting – that the mere fact of being one of the first lends expressive credibility to such a venture.

      Vanessa, I heartily agree! Why should capitals be the only casualty of efficiency? Let’s get rid of every third word, too! Surely our readers will be able to fill in the blanks.

    • TomM Says:

      A nicely worded bit of critique, in my opinion.I particularly enjoyed the ‘shiftless existence’ bit. I’d venture to say that it is lack of respect for oneself rather than others that would motivate people to omit the capitals; just one of many dilutions of the language that have taken place. Out of interest, I picked up a copy of Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby” and scanned it for apostrophes. There was nary a one to be found when he was writing in the third person, except in the possessive. Maybe our slurring of words together into contractions was a precursor to other shortcuts we have taken with the English language since then.

      Tom2

    • SethBlog Says:

      Interesting analysis Tom2. Especially intriguing is the notion that lowercase lettering is a metaphor for low self-esteeming. Intriguing, but I’m not convinced. I don’t think it’s that complicated: instead, I think lower-casers are simply doing it for fashion.

      However, I am compelled by your Charles Dickens observation. I wonder if he would be appalled today to witness how often we use contractions in our written language. I am suddenly sheepish to think what he would think of my writing! Perhaps he would find it as irritating as I do capital-free sentences.

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