Friday, March 21, 2008

To capitalise or Not to capitalise

There is a rather large gathering of Letterpress folks on a listgroup lately that has taken some of us to task over our lack of using capitals. I cannot speak for others, i only know myself. My suspicion is that this phenomena is an internet habit to a large degree, or just a way of expression. Some see the capitol "I" as rather arrogant. Most languages do not capitalise the first person personal pronoun. Spanish say "yo". Germans say "ich". French use "je". I'm not sure of other languages, but i suspect a commonality. Someone may submit otherwise.

One point was made about capitals being necessary for communication. Here is where i can bring some information to the table.

In a word, hogwash.

It may have escaped notice that our news services had, for about three decades, made no differentiation between lower or upper cases. The model 15 and 33 "greenkey" printers and reperfs read only 5-baudot code. From the 1920s and up thru the 1950s these machines kept us abreast on events locally and around the world. All in capitals. Flagging the carriage to shift was a relatively recent thing, really, and requires a specific Baudot code character.

Ahh, yes. Code. Morse. Bane of every graduate from the U.S. Army's "A" school. Demon of every amateur radio wannabee . . . until recently when the FCC dropped the International Code requirements. Until the new millenia we hams had to prove proficiency in code at differing speeds for differing license classes. I, personally, love code. I grew up with it. Not very fast at it, mind you, i topped at 33 words per minute (wpm), but was fast enough to handle traffic and operate a "mill" which is the term of endearment for any of several copying machines. Typing machines that are used to transcribe code by the receiving operator (op). It could be an actual professional code "mill" or a regular typewriter. The op learned to automatically type what the ear heard without engaging the thought process. Just like touch typing, only using the ears, not the eyes. And wonder of wonders:

No shift key.

Professional transcribing machines are all caps. If we used typwriters, it was all lower case. The reason was because at code speeds above 30 wpm (we call it "press speed") taking the time to carriage shift can knock off your copy entirely. Especially when you must copy character per character for letter accuracy if you are transcribing a Radiogramme. For just chit-chat, word and sentence copy will do. Here is where code becomes a language. But for letter, or character copy, no differentiation is ever utilised. There is no such thing as a capital letter in International code.

So, what has this to do with the capital "i"? Well, in my case, 32 years of code behind a keyboard pretty well has me not using the shift key all that much. Has it hindered intelligibility? Has it hindered countless millions of messages sent by code since the 1840s? Had hundreds of thousands of ships at sea considered themselves in jeopardy since the first ship to shore stations went into operation in the 1890s? Have military campaigns ever been misdirected by telegraph during the War between the States? Spanish American War? Crimean War? Franco-Prussion War? World War 1 or 2?


I have no qualms with the proper use of capitals in the Englishe Tongue. And i do value proper grammar, and can be as formal as the rest of my fellow printers. But to say that capitals are integral to communication would be a hard sell to 160 years of landline and wireless code ops, commercial marine, military and the International Telecommunications Union!

One thing about us Brasspounders: we are a fraternal lot! We love our traditions, we love our legacy, most of us have hung on to our keys, our "bugs", our "mills", even our favourite sounders or receivers. In my case, a 1946 HRO-5A1t, my novice BC-453 "Q5er" and my Vibroplex Champion Bug and WW2 RAF 8-amper. When we get behind a keyboard, be it mill or computer, the tendency is to let a little of our "cw" manner show, and one telltale is not to capitalise "I". It's not a sign of laziness, neither is it a sign of lacking education. It's part of a legacy that is older than most of our iron presses!

Ok. I'm off my soap box.

And as we sign off in cw:

"fb om es 73 - cul es gby - de wd4nka sk"

dit dit.


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