February 9, 2009

A “Case” of Word Origination

Posted in Book Talk, Word Fun tagged , , at 1:11 pm by The Word Jar

Ever wonder about the origination of the words uppercase and lowercase? Me neither. Until I started reading Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling by David Wolman.

In a delightful little detour from the history of spelling, Wolman discusses the operations of a Gutenberg printing press. Typesetters would sit at cases of letters, quickly setting lines of type to be placed in the press. To increase efficiency, letters and symbols used less frequently, such as capital letters, were placed in a high case. Non-capitalized letters had to be within easy reach, since they were used more often. So, capital letters were stored in the “upper case,” and non-capitalized letters were stored in the “lower case.”

Boom! Word origination! Good stuff!


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