living in lowercase

Issue 7, Volume 113

By Virgenya Zhu 

did this article catch your eye because you unconsciously noticed something was different? you’re right: it’s written in lowercase.

uncommon texting etiquette has always been present, but the latest wave is typing in lowercase letters only. the majority of the people i text send messages without capitalized letters, even if the other aspects of their sentences, such as punctuation and lack of abbreviation, are grammatically correct. this trend began with the earliest mobile phones, when it was a hassle to get to certain letters and to capitalize words, causing a whole new type of writing to emerge, with minimal effort ways to express things such as “fyi,” “lol,” and “2nite.” but while some internet abbreviations have stayed, others have disappeared completely. some are still used ironically in mainstream and social media. meanwhile, typing in lowercase has more or less stayed put. it’s safe to say that lowercase is here to stay.

but is it unprofessional? my phone’s auto-cap is turned off, and whenever i need to send an e-mail to a teacher, i find myself manually turning caps on. talking professionally over e-mail and with authority figures is the norm. capitalization has been used throughout the years to show respect. an old history teacher once told my class that her pet peeve is capitalization errors, because it shows ignorance and varying levels of respect. for example, older textbooks tend to capitalize europe but not africa. the difference in capitalization says something about the writer and their views of the world. but when texting, i hardly ever think about capitalizing names, places, and organizations.

the rise of lowercase has much to do with the internet and how trends shift in and out of vogue, but this grammatical rebellion predates the internet and can be seen as far back as the ‘70s, when writer bell hooks chose to use a lowercase pen name to keep her audience’s focus on her writing rather than her as an individual. another example is e.e. cummings, who played with the standards of punctuation and capitalization in his time to emphasize the relative strangeness of the language. capitalization is old-fashioned, and the so-called unarguable conventions of the english language are unnecessary. there is no reason lowercase should be considered negligent or sloppy. as long as you cross your t’s and dot your i’s, why should it matter if they aren’t capitalized?

though some people believe that typing in lowercase suggests unfamiliarity or an unedited “stream of consciousness” type of writing style, web culture has encouraged people to develop their own communication preferences. i’ve heard people say that they fear coming off as too strong or overly enthusiastic when they text people in capital letters. typing in lowercase tends to come off more lowkey. university of manchester linguistics lecturer lauren fonteyn says that there’s an underlying psychology to it as well. “on the internet, people have stopped caring about these non-functional rules of grammar and started using caps for other reasons,” she said. “to make the words more default, neutral, or ‘unmarked,’ lowercase is used.” we see this practice in pop culture and art too, with rupi kaur’s intense, haunting decapitalized poems and ariana grande’s thank u, next as a trendsetting album, as well as newer, more “radical” books like a kid’s book about feminism and me and white supremacy. there’s a sense of realness to it, like there is something vulnerable and important transpiring.

though lowercase is more popular in internet spaces and casual chats with friends, there should be nothing stopping us from integrating it into our language. policing one’s every grammatical move is antiquated and rather useless when you can still understand the point. in fact, it makes it all the more powerful when you capitalize certain words to make a point. lowercase can signal authenticity and comfort, but using it in everyday situations also has an unspoken history of questioning the status quo. lowercase shouldn’t be regarded as inappropriate or unprofessional. regardless of your own typing preferences, don’t regard lowercase as a bad thing, and don’t knock it until you try it. i encourage you to go to the keyboard section of your phone settings to embrace the lowercase life.

what now, grammar police?