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In orthography and typography, letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger upper case (also capital letters, capitals, caps, majuscule, or large letters) and smaller lower case (also minuscule or small letters) in certain languages. In the Latin script, upper case letters are A, B, C, etc., whereas lower case includes a, b, c, etc. Here is a comparison of the upper and lower case versions of each letter included in the English alphabet (the exact representation will vary according to the font used):
The lower case is the normal and more common variant, contrasted by the upper case, which is used for special purposes, for example as the first letter of a sentence or a proper noun. Languages have capitalisation rules to determine whether an upper or lower case letter is to be used in a given context, but there can also be stylistic variation.
The term upper case (or lower case) can be written as two consecutive words or alternatively connected with a hyphen (upper-case or lower-case), or as a single word (uppercase or lowercase). These terms originated from the common layouts of the shallow drawers called type cases used to hold the movable type for letterpress printing. Traditionally, the capital letters were stored in a separate case that was located above the case that held the small letters.
For paleographers, a majuscule (// or //) script is any script in which the letters have very few or very short ascenders and descenders, or none at all (for example, the majuscule scripts used in the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1209, or the Book of Kells).
The word minuscule is often spelled miniscule, by association with the unrelated word miniature and the prefix mini-. This has traditionally been regarded as a spelling mistake (since minuscule is derived from the word minus), but is now so common that some dictionaries tend to accept it as a nonstandard or variant spelling. However, miniscule is still less likely to be used for lower-case letters.
Most Western languages (particularly those with writing systems based on the Latin, Cyrillic, Greek, Coptic, and Armenian alphabets) use letter cases in their written form as an aid to clarity. Scripts using two separate cases are also called bicameral scripts. Many other writing systems (such as the Georgian, Glagolitic, Arabic, Hebrew, Devanagari, and Hangul alphabets, not to mention Chinese or Kana character sets), make no distinction between capital and lowercase letters – a system called unicameral script or unicase.
If an alphabet has case, all or nearly all letters have both forms. Both forms in each pair are considered variants of the same letter: they have the same name and pronunciation and will be treated identically when sorting in alphabetical order.
Capitalisation is the writing of a word with its first letter in uppercase and the remaining letters in lowercase. Capitalisation rules vary by language and are often quite complex, but in most modern languages that have capitalisation, the first letter of every sentence is capitalised, as are all proper nouns.
Capitalisation in English, in terms of the general orthographic rules independent of context (e.g., title vs heading vs text), is universally standardized for formal writing (informal communication, such as texting, instant messaging, or a handwritten sticky note, may not bother, but that is because its users usually do not expect it to be formal). In English, capital letters are used as the first letter of a sentence, a proper noun, or a proper adjective. There are a few pairs of words of different meanings whose only difference is capitalisation of the first letter. The first-person pronoun "I" and the interjection "O" are also capitalised. Initialisms or acronyms are generally written in all-caps in American English, whereas British English only capitalises the first letter of an acronym (pronounced as a word) – or none if it is regarded as an everyday word. Lower case letters are normally used for all other purposes. There are however situations where further capitalisation may be used to give added emphasis, for example in headings and titles or to pick out certain words (often using small capitals). In some traditional forms of poetry, capitalisation has conventionally been used as a marker to indicate the beginning of a line of verse independent of any grammatical feature.
Other languages vary in their use of capitals. For example, in German the first letter of all nouns is capitalised (this was previously common in English as well), while in Romance and most other European languages the names of days of the week, months of the year, and adjectives of nationality, religion and so on generally begin with a lower case letter.
Similar orthographic conventions are used for emphasis or following language-specific rules, including:
|The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with English and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (September 2013)|
In English, a variety of case styles are used in various circumstances:
The main examples are as follows (from most to least capitals used):
|The||Vitamins||Are||In||My||Fresh||California||Raisins||Start case – capitalisation of all words, regardless of the part of speech|
|The||Vitamins||Are||in||My||Fresh||California||Raisins||Capitalisation of the first word, and all other words, except for articles, prepositions, and conjunctions|
|The||Vitamins||are||in||My||Fresh||California||Raisins||Capitalisation of the first word, and all other words, except for articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and forms of to be|
|The||Vitamins||are||in||my||Fresh||California||Raisins||Capitalisation of the first word, and all other words, except for closed-class words|
|The||Vitamins||are||in||my||fresh||California||Raisins||Capitalisation of all nouns and the first word|
|the||Vitamins||are||in||my||fresh||California||Raisins||Capitalisation only of nouns|
|The||vitamins||are||in||my||fresh||California||raisins||Sentence case – capitalisation of only the first word, proper nouns and as dictated by other specific English rules|
|the||vitamins||are||in||my||fresh||California||raisins||Mid-sentence case – capitalisation of proper nouns only|
|the||vitamins||are||in||my||fresh||california||raisins||All-lowercase letters (unconventional in formal English)|
In English-language publications, varying conventions are used for capitalising words in publication titles and headlines, including chapter and section headings. The rules differ substantially between individual house styles.
The convention followed by many British publishers (including scientific publishers, like Nature, magazines, like The Economist and New Scientist, and newspapers, like The Guardian and The Times) is to use sentence-style capitalisation in titles and headlines, where capitalisation follows the same rules that apply for sentences. This convention is usually called sentence case. It is also widely used in the United States, especially in newspaper publishing, bibliographic references and library catalogues. Examples of global publishers whose English-language house styles prescribe sentence-case titles and headings include the International Organization for Standardization.
Among U.S. book publishers, it is a common typographic practice to capitalise significant words in titles and headings. This is an old form of emphasis, similar to the more modern practice of using a larger or boldface font for titles. This family of typographic conventions is usually called title case. The rules for which words to capitalise are not based on any grammatically inherent correct/incorrect distinction and are not universally standardized; they are arbitrary and differ between style guides, although in most styles they tend to follow a few strong conventions, as follows:
One British style guide mentions a form of title case: R. M. Ritter's Oxford Manual of Style (2002) suggests capitalising "the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs, but generally not articles, conjunctions and short prepositions".
Although title case is still widely used in English-language publications, especially in the United States, sentence case has been slowly gaining some popularity over title case in recent decades, for several reasons. One is that, in the era of shrinking budgets and profitability for traditional publishing, some production staffs have realized that title case is not lean (it imposes a cost to enforce the rules and exceptions of any particular house style that, because of its arbitrariness, does not add any inherent value to the text). Another is that title case strikes some users as old-fashioned, associated with non-scientific/technical and pre-internet writing style. Such trends may lend a certain fashionableness to sentence case.
In creative typography, such as music record covers and other artistic material, all styles are commonly encountered, including all-lowercase letters and special case styles, such as studly caps (see below).
In the International System of Units (SI), a letter usually has a different meaning in upper and lower cases when used as a unit symbol. A unit symbol is normally written in lower case, but if the name of the unit is derived from a proper noun, the first letter of the symbol is written in upper case (nevertheless, the name of the unit, if spelled out, is always considered a common noun and written accordingly):
The letter case of a prefix symbol is defined independently of the unit symbol it is attached to. Lower case is used for all submultiple prefix symbols and the small multiple prefix symbols up to "k" (for kilo, meaning 103 = 1000 multiplier), whereas upper case is used for larger multipliers:
Case-insensitive operations are sometimes said to fold case, from the idea of folding the character code table so that upper- and lower-case letters coincide. The conversion of letter case in a string is common practice in computer applications, for instance to make case-insensitive comparisons. Many high-level programming languages provide simple methods for case folding, at least for the ASCII character set.
Most modern word processors provide automated case folding with a simple click or keystroke. For example, in Microsoft Office Word, there is a dialog box for toggling the selected text through UPPERCASE, then lowercase, then Title Case (actually start caps; exception words must be lowercased individually). The keystroke shift-F3 does the same thing.
In some forms of BASIC there are two methods for case folding:
UpperA$ = UCASE$("a") LowerA$ = LCASE$("A")
char upperA = toupper('a'); char lowerA = tolower('A');
#define toupper(c) (islower(c) ? (c) - 'a' + 'A' : (c)) #define tolower(c) (isupper(c) ? (c) - 'A' + 'a' : (c))
This only works because the letters of upper and lower cases are spaced out equally. In ASCII they are consecutive, whereas with EBCDIC they are not; nonetheless the upper case letters are arranged in the same pattern and with the same gaps as are the lower case letters, so the technique still works.
Some computer programming languages offer facilities for converting text to a form in which all words are first-letter capitalised. Visual Basic calls this "proper case"; Python calls it "title case". This differs from usual title casing conventions, such as the English convention in which minor words are not capitalised.
Unicode defines case folding through the three case-mapping properties of each character: uppercase, lowercase and titlecase. These properties relate all characters in scripts with differing cases to the other case variants of the character.
As briefly discussed in Unicode Technical Note #26, "In terms of implementation issues, any attempt at a unification of Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic would wreak havoc [and] make casing operations an unholy mess, in effect making all casing operations context sensitive [...]". In other words, while the shapes of letters like A, B, E, H, K, M, O, P, T, X, Y and so on are shared between the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets (and small differences in their canonical forms may be considered to be of a merely typographical nature), it would still be problematic for a multilingual character set or a font to provide only a single codepoint for, say, uppercase letter B, as this would make it quite difficult for a wordprocessor to change that single uppercase letter to one of the three different choices for the lower case letter, b (Latin), β (Greek), or в (Cyrillic). Without letter case, a "unified European alphabet" – such as ABБCГDΔΕZЄЗFΦGHIИJ...Z, with an appropriate subset for each language – is feasible; but considering letter case, it becomes very clear that these alphabets are rather distinct sets of symbols.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (September 2011)|
Originally alphabets were written entirely in majuscule letters, spaced between well-defined upper and lower bounds. When written quickly with a pen, these tended to turn into rounder and much simpler forms. It is from these that the first minuscule hands developed, the half-uncials and cursive minuscule, which no longer stayed bound between a pair of lines. These in turn formed the foundations for the Carolingian minuscule script, developed by Alcuin for use in the court of Charlemagne, which quickly spread across Europe.
In Latin, papyri from Herculaneum dating before 79 AD (when it was destroyed) have been found that have been written in old Roman cursive, where the early forms of minuscule letters "d", "h" and "r", for example, can already be recognised. According to papyrologist Knut Kleve, "The theory, then, that the lower-case letters have been developed from the fifth century uncials and the ninth century Carolingian minuscules seems to be wrong." Both majuscule and minuscule letters existed, but the difference between the two variants was initially stylistic rather than orthographic and the writing system was still basically unicameral: a given handwritten document could use either one style or the other but these were not mixed. European languages, except for Ancient Greek and Latin, did not make the case distinction before about 1300.
The timeline of writing in Western Europe can be divided into four eras:
Traditionally, certain letters were rendered differently according to a set of rules. In particular, those letters that began sentences or nouns were made larger and often written in a distinct script. There was no fixed capitalisation system until the early 18th century. The English language eventually dropped the rule for nouns, while the German language kept it.
Similar developments have taken place in other alphabets. The lower-case script for the Greek alphabet has its origins in the 7th century and acquired its quadrilinear form in the 8th century. Over time, uncial letter forms were increasingly mixed into the script. The earliest dated Greek lower-case text is the Uspenski Gospels (MS 461) in the year 835. The modern practice of capitalising the first letter of every sentence seems to be imported (and is rarely used when printing Ancient Greek materials even today).
The individual type blocks used in hand typesetting are stored in shallow wooden or metal drawers, known as type cases, with subdivisions into compartments known as boxes to store each individual letter.
The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Advanced Proportional Principles (reprinted 1952) indicates that case in this sense (referring to the box or frame used by a compositor in the printing trade) was first used in English in 1588. Originally one large case was used for each typeface, then "divided cases", pairs of cases for majuscules and minuscules, were introduced in the region of today's Belgium by 1563, England by 1588, and France before 1723.
The terms upper and lower case originate from this division. By convention, when the two cases were taken out of the storage rack, and placed on a rack on the compositor's desk, the case containing the capitals and small capitals stood at a steeper angle at the back of the desk, with the case for the small letters, punctuation and spaces being more easily reached at a shallower angle below it to the front of the desk, hence upper and lower case.
Though pairs of cases were used in English-speaking countries and many European countries in the seventeenth century, in Germany and Scandinavia the single case continued in use.
Various patterns of cases are available, often with the compartments for lower-case letters varying in size according to the frequency of use of letters, so that the commonest letters are grouped together in larger boxes at the centre of the case. The compositor takes the letter blocks from the compartments and places them in a composing stick, working from left to right and placing the letters upside down with the nick to the top, then sets the assembled type in a galley.
|Look up capital letter in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up minuscule or lowercase in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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