Terms uppercase / lowercase and their origins

mrzen256's picture

Hi everyone, I am a graphic design student and for part of my assignment I need to explain the terms uppercase and lower case and their origins. If anyone knows of a good resource site I can research I would be delighted. So far I have run web searches but I can never seem to find any relevant information. Your help would be much appreciated.

capthaddock's picture

Typographers used to keep the lead type for majuscules in the top drawer and the lead type for minuscules in the bottom drawer, IIRC.


eomine's picture

i am not very sure about this, but afaik, these
terms come from the old type "cases".

when using metal type, each character is
constructed as a little piece of... metal. to
organize these pieces, typesetters use a wooden
box, divided in several "cases", each case
corresponding to a specific character.

the uppercase characters are saved in the upper
cases of the box, and the lowercase in the lower
cases. simple as that.

i don

bieler's picture

Paul would be right about this. Early on, the majuscule was kept in one case (drawer), the minuscule in another. But at the top of the cabinet (of drawers) were a set of slanted banks. This is where the compositor would put the cases when setting type. The top one was for the majuscule (uppercase) and the bottom for the minuscule (lowercase). Later on, combinations such as the California job case or the Yanbkee job case incorporated both the majuscule and minuscule into one case.

But the case itself is divided into sorts. The phrase "out of sorts" is said by some to derive from the situation of running out of a particular character. Sorts are also know as additional runs of a certain character. You might order, for instance, a six-inch line of lowercase e sorts to replensish your stock.

kentlew's picture

Gerald, of course, knows well of which he speaks.

If you would like a visual and/or documentation to back you up, get ahold of a copy of A Short History of the Printed Word by Warren Chappell. There is an illustration and a concise description of the cases in Chapter III (pp. 52-53 in the first edition).

You should be able to find a copy at any decent library.

This book was also recently reprinted and updated, published by Hartley & Marks, with the additions provided by Robert Bringhurst, if I recall correctly. I presume that they reproduced the original illustrations.

-- Kent.

flow14's picture

Another good book that I've found somewhat helpful
is The Art of Hand Lettering by Helm Wotzkow. The hand
lettering part isn't too relevant these days, but it
covers the basics of good spacing, proportion, etc.

It's relatively easy to find at used book shops and
it's usually under $5.

mrzen256's picture

Thanks for all your input guys, it is much appreciated. You have helped a lot.

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