In line with other radical ideas, like the belief in one kind of font for the new age, and in the asymmetry which would visualise this new age, the Bauhaus-movement also sought to eliminate the majuscules. And in this day & age majuscules are less and less visible in parts of our culture. The process is perhaps made speedier by sms and e-mail, faster methods of communication in which it is less important to take the trouble of initiating a sentence or a paragraph with a capital letter. But at the same time the capitals and other conventions that apply to the reading-process are kept in most books, as well as other places.

Asymmetrical arrangements, the use of sans serifs and minuscules used alone (without majuscules) are historically related. They go hand in hand. So does symmetrical arrangements, old-style (renaissance antiqua-) types, and the use of capitals, small capitals and italic.

Today it is not rare to find asymmetrical arrangements of old-style types, or symmetrical placement of sans serifs. We also find books where titles are set in minuscules alone, while the usual conventions of reading are kept in the main text, so that new sentences, names and new paragraphs begin with a capital letter. We also find poems, where the poem begins with a minuscule, but where names in the poem are written with a capital letter in the beginning. This may result in problems for the text itself:

If a single word is written in lower-case the word as image will get a random outline shape/contour, something that gives the word a more visually disturbed look than if it was set in upper-case. Take for example the word ‘—–’. The word has more ascenders in the beginning——-

If a poem starts with a minuscule rather than a majuscule, and the last poem ended at the bottom of the preceeding page, the reader becomes ambivalent as to whether he is reading a new poem, or if it is a continuation of last page’s poem.

In addition, eliminating the majuscule will in many instances be at odds with the reader’s expectations, and even though there may be many reasons for doing so, it is nevertheless not given that such a graphic effect serves the text.

In order to avoid ascenders and descenders altogether, many experiments have been made by mixing upper- and lower-case: aBcDeFGHIJKLmnoPQrsTuvwxYz. Strictly speaking this is a regression. Historically we find a model for this in the uncial letterforms, which do not have ascenders and descenders at first, other than as small tendencies. Only in the half-uncial do some of these occur, in certain letters, a sign that the letters are slowly evolving into minuscules. This development, from majuscules, via uncials and half-uncials, to minuscules, happens under the influence of the roman cursive, an informal note-taking hand which co-existed alongside the other Roman scripts. Late roman cursive, used in the margins of manuscripts at a later date directly influenced the change from majuscule to uncial to minuscule. The scribes probably dicovered the advantage in speed gained by rounder letterforms, written with fewer lifts of the pen.



Author: Christopher Haanes

Calligrapher, typographer, book-designer. Teacher and author of several books and articles on letters.

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