Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 12th Jan 2010 13:31 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces Every now and then on OSNews, we discuss typography and language. Despite the fact that many think it's not relevant for computing - it most certainly is. Whether you're browsing the web, reading email, or chatting over IM - the most common element on your computer screen is typography. Today, I want to discuss something we barely have in my native language: small capitals.
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I like small caps
by filmamigo on Tue 12th Jan 2010 15:32 UTC
filmamigo
Member since:
2010-01-12

Thom, I always enjoy your side excursions into the typographic. I don't always agree though, and today is an example.

I like small caps.

I think you may be onto something when you note that small caps are very foreign to your native language. Aside from the current normative usages (like for acronyms), smalls caps have a "heritage" (read "old fashioned") aspect to them.

Small caps in English harken to the era of independent small-press broadsheet printers. Look up an example of 1800's posters -- like a U.S. Civil War era print job. There is a playfulness in the use of sporadic capitalization and small caps.

The use of sporadic capitals and small caps helped those broadsheets convey something that is missing from modern, Helvetica-inspired web communications. It very clearly conveys EMOTION, C A D E N C E, and authorial emphasis. Texting, emails, and web postings are often found to be problematic because they are missing so many of those elements. The need for an emoticon arises, in part, because of a mechanical reliance on a single typeface with no emotional inflection.

I also like small caps because they are part of a playful heritage within the English language. English has been marked by rapid evolution in spelling, word invention, and the adoption of phrases from other languages. It's fun!

Reply Score: 3

RE: I like small caps
by JacobMunoz on Tue 12th Jan 2010 16:45 in reply to "I like small caps"
JacobMunoz Member since:
2006-03-17

I agree, and I do think it's usage in early US prints (of all sorts) has made it a part of 'traditional' American English. From elementary to high school, every US history course has images with small caps - so it doesn't really strike us as jarring or foreign because we've always seen small caps (most of the time without even realizing it).

Most official US seals have small caps in some form as well (President's Seal, every State Seal, most govt. departments, academia, etc.) in places where regular lower-case just doesn't look right. "of the" just doesn't look as formal as a small "OF THE" because lower-case is puny, weak, and boring.

I do admit that when I use small caps I often find that I need to adjust the font size for it to look right sometimes, but I don't use them often enough or have such problems that I gripe and complain about it.

Edited 2010-01-12 16:45 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: I like small caps
by Zifre on Wed 13th Jan 2010 01:38 in reply to "RE: I like small caps"
Zifre Member since:
2009-10-04

I agree, and I do think it's usage in early US prints (of all sorts) has made it a part of 'traditional' American English. From elementary to high school, every US history course has images with small caps - so it doesn't really strike us as jarring or foreign because we've always seen small caps (most of the time without even realizing it).

Most official US seals have small caps in some form as well (President's Seal, every State Seal, most govt. departments, academia, etc.) in places where regular lower-case just doesn't look right. "of the" just doesn't look as formal as a small "OF THE" because lower-case is puny, weak, and boring.

I live in the US and I haver almost never seen small caps. Admittedly, I haven't been looking out for it. But when I do notice it, it definitely does distract and annoy me.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: I like small caps
by Doc Pain on Tue 12th Jan 2010 19:44 in reply to "I like small caps"
Doc Pain Member since:
2006-10-08

Thom, I always enjoy your side excursions into the typographic.


I may express the famous "me too" here. :-)

I like small caps.


I've worked for some years in the scientific / academic sector and have done typography there. Small caps came in handy when you wanted to connect, let's say, a person's name to an effect, which is done this way in German: "der SCHULZsche Effekt" (no idea if such a thing really exists, but let's assume this for an illustration purpose). In this example, the name "SCHULZ" should start with a regular capital S and and continue with small caps for C up to Z; then "sche" is appended in small letters. It really does look good when set correctly. This special form is used to show that "Schulz" is not an abbreviation (which are set in capitals, and may or may not contain dots, such as "N. V." or "KVP"). Other means, used in the absence of small caps, are typesetting it in italics, and maybe adding an apostrophe, e. g. "Schulz'scher Effekt". Of course, small caps can include hyphens for concatenated nouns, e. g. "die Van-der-Beulen-Schaltung", named after some arbitrary mister van der Beulen.

Of course, LaTeX is the tool of choice. It offers the \sc macro: {\sc This is in small caps!} with scopus, or \sc now small caps \rm and now normal roman font again.

As you will agree, LaTeX is for professional typesetting, usually on paper, and often for PDF files. It's not used for the web.

BUT:

Is the web usable for typography?

As a sidenote: Many written (i. e. printed) languages suggest the use of ligatures, such as "ck", "ch", "ff", "fl", "ffl" or "fi" and many others in German. If you want to have something typeset correctly, you can hardly achieve this with web tools. The usual workaround is to provide a PDF file that contains all the typographic properties.

The use of sporadic capitals and small caps helped those broadsheets convey something that is missing from modern, Helvetica-inspired web communications. It very clearly conveys EMOTION, C A D E N C E, and authorial emphasis. Texting, emails, and web postings are often found to be problematic because they are missing so many of those elements. The need for an emoticon arises, in part, because of a mechanical reliance on a single typeface with no emotional inflection.


That's what smileys (to be delivered as embedded and animated pictures) are to be used for on the web. :-)

English has been marked by rapid evolution in spelling, word invention, and the adoption of phrases from other languages. It's fun!


Every language is fun, as soon as you are able to master it. :-)

Reply Parent Score: 2