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Typography Tuesday 003: Where Did Letter Cases Come from?

By • Nov 7th, 2006 • Category: Design Geeky, Typography

Typography TuesdayI’ve been doing quite a lot of reading and research this week.
Three reasons;

  1. To get back up to speed with Actionscript (3.0…very cool.)
  2. design research for a couple of client projects, and
  3. this feature

I’m not sure if it’s the particular books I’m reading or the subject matter, but I’ve come across a strange number of really interesting little factoids in the process. Lots of “I’ve always wondered about that…” bits. A couple of interest for Typo Tuesday follow.

Why are the different versions of letters referred to as uppercase and lowercase?

Illustration of type case drawers

I honestly hadn’t given it much thought. Back in the days of hand-set type, fonts came separated by letter in wooden compartmentalized drawers. (You might have seen these displaying knick-knacks or tsotchkes on your grandmother’s wall. I have.) When the typesetter used a particular font, they’d place the drawers containing the type on the angled top of the cabinet (also called a case) in which the drawers were stored. Lowercase was lowerbecause those letters are used more frequently. So, The origin of the terms uppercase and lowercase came from the literal location of that part of the font on the typesetters case when in use.

Then what were uppercase and lowercase letters called before movable type came along?

Sure, uppercase = capital letters. I was stumped as to what lowercase letters were called. Minuscules. Lowercase letters are minuscules. The word itself is often spelled miniscule, by association with the unrelated word miniature and the prefix mini. This is traditionally regarded as a spelling mistake, but is now so common that dictionaries tend to accept it as a spelling variation.[1] In the same shot of research, I discovered that capitals are also called majuscules.

If you already knew what a majuscule is, you’re a far greater type nerd than I. You should be writing some of these.
[tags]typography,fonts,graphic design[/tags]

is a post-hardcore rock'n'roller, graphic designer, amateur chef, typography nerd, coffee connoisseur, radio guy, motorcyclist, skateboard commuter, and a reluctant adult. He lives in Portland's Old Town area with the lovely Dr. Adrienne and Rocco the Dog.
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