Case Insensitive (or Sentenced to Confusion)

lower case have you noticed that an increasing number of people are no longer beginning sentences with a capital letter? this trend is particularly noticeable in social media and also in comments on blogs and articles in online newspapers. in some examples i’ve even seen people using lowercase for the first person singular personal pronoun (i). i’ll call this mono-case writing for want of a better term. it’s often seen with paragraphs that just go on and on and on with no breaks.

I’m not sure what’s behind this mono-case trend. Perhaps it’s a little easier to type without looking for the shift key, but do you find it easy to read? Perhaps it’s just fashionable or considered aesthetically pleasing. Here’s an example I saw this morning in a comment:

cleared? apology? what are you guys smoking, some of that good ol’ leftist hooch one can only imagine.

Notice that in this example punctuation is still being used. There are commas and full stops and other punctuation that I would have thought were more difficult to find on the keyboard than the shift key. This tends to push the cause more towards a fashion or aesthetic statement. Leaving this question to one side for the moment, I want to talk about why mono-casing is not working for you as a writer or me as a reader, or more exactly why conventional capitals are good for you and me. There are two groups of readers who are helped by beginning sentences with capitals:

  1. Those who want to skim text looking for stuff that is important to them, and
  2. Those with impaired sight.

In traditionally constructed sentences, there are two pieces of information that help to identify the end of one sentence and the beginning of another:

  • the punctuation at the end of a sentence and
  • the capitalisation of the first letter of the next sentence.

This provides contextual redundancy. You need to miss both pieces of information before the sentence construction become unclear. When reading online, font types, colours, sizes and screen resolutions are not always optimal. So reading online can be more difficult than reading traditional printed material. As an example, take the humble comma and full stop. If your eyesight is not 100% (or you’re reading quickly) you may mistake one for the other, or fail to see it altogether. That’s not necessarily disastrous if it’s followed by a capitalised word. Your brain can quickly infer that if the uncertain punctuation is followed by a capitalised word then you’re probably moving into a new sentence. All this happens subconsciously, so reading speed and comprehension are not seriously compromised. What does this mean  for you as a writer? When you’re writing, the entire objective is that your reader should want to read what you have to say and be able to understand exactly what you mean. So, if you want to make sure that happens, help the reader by making your sentence construction clear. Here’s what you can expect if you use conventional sentence capitalisation and punctuation when writing:

  1. You increase the probability that your readers will understand what you write.
  2. You make it easier for readers to skim over your writing as they look for the bits that are important to them.
  3. Readers who have aging or failing eyesight will cope better and be forever grateful.
  4. People who prefer to write in mono-case will not, as readers, be disadvantaged.

Conversely, if you don’t care whether anyone reads or understands your writing then use whatever convention appeals to you.

Now, if you think I’m being a little picky, and you really want to pull my string, ask how I feel about comma-splice sentences and apostrophes misuse/abuse.

Some useful or useless links, depending on your viewpoint:

Rules for capitalising: http://www.myenglishteacher.net/captilizingletters.html

Some history of upper/lower case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Latin_alphabet

This is something for the younger audience:
http://youtu.be/0Wrv_ZviMEc

 

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