Capital letters, as my Lingua Franca colleague Bill Germano noted recently, aren’t very welcome on the internet. I SAID, CAPITAL LETTERS ARE NOT VERY WELCOME. Get it?
It doesn’t matter what you say. Any message at all, like the one above, is annoying when delivered in capitals. Even complimentary and loving messages become irritants when capped: YOU ARE SO SMART, I JUST LOVE THE WAY YOU LOOK, I’M YOURS FOREVER. Stop shouting! I can’t hear you through the noise!
If you’re old enough, you can remember how all-caps messages came to be. The first alphabetical characters available on computers were caps only. That was actually an advance from numbers only, 0 and 1 being the basic mode of communication with those machines. But we are long since past those limitations.
I can remember when, back in the 20th century, getting computers to use the phonetic alphabet was a far from trivial challenge. Now all sorts of characters are readily available, most certainly lowercase of the roman alphabet.
Furthermore, it is said that caps aren’t as legible as the mixed uppercase-lowercase that’s the norm for writing. That’s because lowercase letters have more variety in their appearance. There are p’s and q’s and y’s descending below the line, and b’s, d’s, h’s, k’s, i’s, l’s and t’s projecting above the “x height” of the letter x and most others.
Capitals, in contrast, all extend from the same base to the same height. So, supposedly, it’s harder to read a word in all caps, since we recognize words by their distinctive shapes, and there’s more variation in the shapes of lowercase words than of all-caps words.
It stands to reason. Except, in this case, reason doesn’t stand.
It turns out that we don’t recognize words by their shapes. Or at least, the shape difference doesn’t matter that much.
As the behavioral scientist Susan Weinschenk wrote on The Team W, a blog about brain science,
“You don’t recognize words by the shape of the word. You recognize familiar letter sequences. The research strongly suggests that you recognize all the letters in a word at the same time, and then you use the recognition of those letters to recognize the word.”
Similarly, that’s what Aries Arditi and Jianna Cho of Lighthouse International found when they tested the relative legibility of uppercase vs. lowercase and mixed text.
“It is thought by cognitive scientists and typographers alike, that lowercase text is more legible than uppercase,” they wrote in 2007. “Yet lowercase letters are, on average, smaller in height and width than uppercase characters, which suggests an uppercase advantage.”
And so it proved in their experiments. “Results suggest that uppercase is more legible than the other case styles, especially for visually impaired readers, because smaller letter sizes can be used than with the other case styles, with no diminution of legibility.”
GET IT? NOTHING WRONG WITH ALL CAPITALS, EXCEPT THEY ANNOY THE HELL OUT OF YOU, AND YOUR READERS. So keep it down.