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18 October, 2004

Upper Case and Lower Case - origin of the terms

Here's the story. In the time and age of linotype hot lead composing machines there used to be an urn of molten lead connected to the back of the composing machine. To compose each line of text the compositor would press the key and a type mould would roll on to a horizontal scale and the molten lead would be poured into it and would solidify into a line of text. These lines were then arranged in a “galley” to be printed. That is the beginning of the term “galley proof.”

There used to be two cases placed above the compositor. One case contained the capitals letters, which occupied the upper position so it is the "upper case" and one case contained the ordinary type so it is the "lower case." So the compositor had to press a lever to change from one case to the other.

The magazine I worked with at the start of my career would use this type of composing. The compositor used to confess that he won't live long as some of the lead would get into his system with constant handling. The result: lead poisoning! The maximum he expected to work was ten years. But he was happy with his job.

In those days people put their lives at risk working on these antiquated machines. Now we have computers to do the job, spelling and grammar checks, and autocorrect that corrects without our intervention. But still people are lazy and lethargic and prefer to consider themselves "geniuses" in the language who do not need editing.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

cool, i needed this for my Tech Ed. extra credit, thnx so much!!

06 February, 2008 05:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I believe that both upper case and lower case originated prior to the invention and use of the Linotype Machine.

Before the introduction of this machine, type was set by hand and was kept in what was called a "case". This was a large tray and was comprised of many different sized boxes where type was stored until used.

The "case" was further divided into "Upper" and "Lower" portions, with the Upper containing capitol letters and the Lower containing the smaller letters (or, uncapitalized).

06 March, 2008 07:53  
Blogger edwinkenn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

09 August, 2009 03:37  
Blogger edwinkenn said...

Anonymous II said, on March 6, 2008 that:

"Before the introduction of (the Linotype Machine), type was set by hand and was kept in what was called a 'case'. This was a large tray and was comprised of many different sized boxes where type was stored until used.

"The 'case' was further divided into 'Upper' and 'Lower' portions, with the Upper containing capitol letters and the Lower containing the smaller letters (or, uncapitalized)."

S/he is correct, with the caveat that 'uncapitalized' is not a word.

09 August, 2009 03:42  

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