Should I use ALL-CAPS?

Shhh! Not So Loud!

Somewhere along the internet timeline, typing in ALL-CAPS became known as rude behavior when communicating with someone. It came to symbolize anger and frustration. When you'd fire off a pointed missive to someone with all-caps, you were yelling at them—and weren't being shy about it. This quickly became a basic violation of proper netiquette.

Let's examine how this trend developed. If you have any thoughts on this matter, let's hear them (not in all-caps, though, please?) on Twitter or Facebook (dictionarycom).

It's Greek To Us

The Washington Post says the ancient Romans used to chisel their statues with all-caps, which is how the style "accumulated a sense of 'grandeur,' 'pomposity' or 'aesthetic seriousness.'" By the 3rd century, the Greeks "developed a way to write letters in minuscule, or shortened forms of uppercase letters. The purpose of minuscule was to speed up writing books by hand while keeping the text legible."

There was still no defined separation between uppercase and lowercase, though. By the 15th century, the upper/lower style would be in place.

Blame Usenet

As far as modern times go, the website New Republic points to old Usenet newsgroups of the 1980s as the true launching pad for this social faux pas. "In 1984, one user had to explain: "'if it's in caps i'm trying to YELL!'"

The all-caps method became easier when folks started using computer keyboards to communicate, rather than writing in cursive. Who would ever write out all-caps? Now there's that tempting caps lock button just sitting...right...there.

THIS JUST IN! says that old Associated Press teletype machines (kids, ask your parents) and early computers used all-caps exclusively. Reporters and announcers would dramatically rip the copy from the wire machine and breathlessly read the all-caps text. They add that "the Navy hung onto using [all-caps] in their messaging system until 2013, and the National Weather Service didn't switch to mixed case in its bulletins until May, 2016." TORNADOS ARE STILL SCARY, THOUGH.


All-caps is also used to signify volume. As the Washington Post pointed out, "on the internet, no one can hear you scream. Unless you use all-capital letters."

In an interview with Stephen Huxley, chair of communication and digital media design at Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology, Huxley said “If your message is good, your message is clear, you don’t need to add emphasis. It’s irrelevant. It's rude and perceived as rude."

Speaking Of Rude...

The Post also noted that a certain Chief Executive tweeted in February 2017, "SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!" Huxley calls this type of communication by a president to be "highly unusual." Will all-caps press releases be next?

Bottom Line

It is a good idea to stay away from all-caps, period. If you’re furious, maybe it’s the right choice—but know that you’re outside the regular rules of netiquette.

The next time you're about to go totally bonkers on the all-caps route, take a breath and step back. Give yourself a little bit of time to feel better. TRUST US ON THIS.