There are many words an phrases in modern life that have their roots, deep in the past. In our article about Jack Crawford we told how if you are determined to succeed it is often said you “nail you colours to the mast”.
So for the computer fanatics amongst us this one is especially for you. Fonts, typefaces, styles all have their roots dating back to the birth of the printed word.
Everyone has their favourite font. For some it is the clean lines of Swiss or Arial, whilst others favour the pseudo handwritten style of Comic Sans.
Whatever your font preference, when it comes to computers, it will not be long before you start talking about capital and small letters as upper and lower case. However where exactly do those terms come from?
On a recent trip to Beamish Museum in County Durham this mystery was solved with a quick visit to the print shop where I got to discuss the matter with the master printer in residence.
If you look carefully at the picture at the top of the article, you will see two storage racks on the bench. An even closer inspection reveals that what is actually being stored is good old fashioned hot metal type. Pieces of metal, each shaped into the mirror image of an individual letter. These pieces of metal are placed together to form the mirror images of words can then be used to transfer the image on to the printed page.
Now each font style, size has its own little alcove in the rack, or to give its correct name “case”. To allow the master printer to quickly compose words on the setting stick, there was a place for everything, and everything had its place. The capital letters were placed in the rack furthest away from the edge of the bench, whilst the small letters were placed in the rack nearest the edge. So to direct a colleague to a capital letter, you would refer to the upper rack, or case. Hence the expression upper case. And the letters that weren’t capitals? They were stored in the “lower” case. Hence when referring to type on the computer, we talk about upper and lower case. Who’d have thought, eh?