All you need is lock, caps lock

Roman ‘square capital’ letters in a 4th-century manuscript from the abbey of St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 1394

Compared to ancient Greek standards, the ancient Romans were very aggressive, nervous and belligerent.

Only through their early contact with the Greeks in southern Italy did the Romans learn to lay back a little. Their martial character can be seen in the way they wrote Latin: capital letters only. As though they were locked in capslock. The Roman keyboard was stuck.

Today, typing in caps is considered rude, aggressive, inappropriate, except when absolutely needed, like an exclamation or a shout that no emojis can approximate. It’s only a deep mark of Romanity hovering over our decadent times.

It is regrettable that social media has recovered the Roman epigraphic, nay, epigrammatic style without restoring the capitalisation that Romans were so familiar with, without passing for an online troll or a potential nutcase.

In the history of letter forms, Roman miniscule, the lower-case letters you are looking at right now, emerged only in the 800s CE during the writing revolution known as the ‘Carolingian Renaissance’. A truly medieval invention, letter case, that is writing with both uppercase and lowercase letters, revolutionised script. It created the conventions we take for granted today, such as capitalising the first letter of personal or place names. Until the end of the 18th century, for instance, every English noun, whether proper or common, was capitalised. Thus, the Bill of Rights of 1689 was originally printed with every noun capitalised:

By assuming and exercising a Power of dispensing with and suspending of Laws and the Execution of Laws without Consent of Parliament.

We may have broken out of capslock, but we got stuck in other ways.

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