Why “lowercase” and “uppercase” letters?

Programmers often refers to capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) as “uppercase”, which is the opposite of “lowercase” for small letters. But why did we introduce two new words (uppercase and lowercase) to describe capital and small letters?

To understand that, you have to go back in time when movable type was the most common system and technology for printing, i.e., reproducing the elements of a document to facilitate it’s diffusion.

By Willi Heidelbach, CC BY 2.5, Link

Back then, the type were stored in a compartmentalized wooden box called a type case often made of two main compartments. And the layout for holding the type was to put the capital letters in the upper case and the small letters in the lower case.

Hence, the terms “lowercase” and “uppercase” come directly from the physical representation or layout used to store those type in the type case. It made sense to store the capital letters in the upper compartment because those are bigger. But I just love how a physical aspect of thing got translated and adopted as common words, because it just made sense back then.

Today, we still use the terms, but we forgot their physical origin. And I find that fascinating.

Photo by Jonathan Camp on Unsplash

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