Subject: Re: The Aesthetics of Symbols (was Re: Uppercasing symbols)
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1998/12/09
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Barry Margolin <>
| On the other hand, that begs the question of why the letters in various
| cases are formed the way they are.  Are the arbitrary, or are the
| lowercase letters shaped so as to be easier to read (alphabets evolved
| mostly by themselves, with little conscious guidance by users --
| certainly much less than has been given to computer languages).

  the invention of lower-case came with more widespread literacy.  its main
  purpose was to reduce the amount of writing materials consumed and the
  time it took to write.  also, the Roman letters (which were all capital)
  are fairly easy to carve in stone.  the Latin alphabet (which includes
  the lowercase letters) is fairly hard to carve in stone, but much easier
  to use on pergament or paper with pen.  most of the fonts we use today
  were designed to be written by hand, with _very_ little variation into
  their printed form.  e.g., Times Roman was designed _explicitly_ to fit
  more text onto the written page using lead type.  Palatino was designed
  to look better with offset printing techniques.  Lucida was designed to
  look better with 300 DPI laser printers.  the Gothic alphabet was used
  primarily in elaborately decorative hand-copied texts, thus it was the
  alphabet Gutenberg used for the first Bibles.

  in the history of writing systems and fonts, you will find that modern
  technologies have influenced the alphabets and their shapes more than
  anything else.  it might well be that the previous situation with all
  uppercase terminals caused upper-case to be favored by languages that
  went through their formative years at the time, while the effort to use
  the shift key on those disgustingly hard Teletype terminals caused the
  lazy bums who designed Unix to use all lowercase and as few characters as
  possible, and also designed C that way because they couldn't bother to
  use any "superfluous" CPU instructions to fold case¹².  (my MULTICS
  material indicates case-insensitivity and canonical upper-case forms.)

  I have on good authority that I write very legibly by hand, but I switch
  to (tiny) upper-case letters if I'm really cramped for space, as that
  means less likelihood of confusion when the relatively boldness of the
  stroke increases.  excessively bold lower-case letters look really bad --
  and that's also the reason you find more boldface text in upper-case.

  all this said, I still think small caps was a good idea.  the fonts I use
  these days (Lucida Typewriter on my screen, various serif fonts on paper)
  also have upper-case letters that are shorter than the stem on the tall
  lower-case letters.  such is also a fairly recent invention.

¹ this may not actually be true, but it is unfortunately 100% consistent
  with the rest of the Unix history.
² I'm reminded of the C programmer who argued against longer symbol names
  because it would take longer to compile.  (I'm not making this one up.)
  don't call people who don't understand statistics idiots.  take their money.