Nowadays, writing in all caps tends to indicate that the writer is shouting.

FOR EXAMPLE IF I TYPE LIKE THIS PEOPLE EQUATE THIS TO SHOUTING.

My understanding from cursory googling is that letters were originally only in one case and a separate case was developed later, with most people considering the first case to be capitalized and the second, newer case to be lowercase. Newspaper headlines and advertisements sometimes lapsed into all caps, but I can't find any indication that the all caps typography was meant to be interpreted as literally shouting the headline at people.

When did people start making the distinction that using the default capitalized letters means the writer is shouting (assuming this practice is old enough that "default" has any meaning)?

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    It goes back to the days of bulletin boards. This article suggests circa 1984. – sempaiscuba Oct 25 '17 at 22:09
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    @Schwern Speak softly and carry a big joystick! ;-) – sempaiscuba Oct 25 '17 at 22:29
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    More applicable on English.SE than here? – Andrew Grimm Oct 26 '17 at 1:46
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    Depends on context, really. It can also mean a voice that sounds like a coffin closing (NOW WHERE DID I PUT MY SCYTHE?), but which is also making people rather uncomfortable. ;-) – DevSolar Oct 26 '17 at 12:13
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    The questioner should probably note that they are looking for a computing based answer if they are. Despite the accepted answer, which provides the electronic history answer, my suspicion is that it was likely used as such in written text, e.g. hand-written letters, long in advance of its use digitally. I wonder if any scripts for plays did so...? – Baldrickk Oct 26 '17 at 14:35
up vote 131 down vote accepted

The tradition of all caps denoting shouting arose from typesetting of printed publications.

The 6 September 1958 Bookseller: The Organ of the Book Trade says:

It [a 16 page list of books] picks out titles in red, and speaks moderately with large-size upper and lower-case letters rather than shouting with all caps. The effect is pleasing to anybody in a contemplative mood.

And more than a century before that, in "The Duthcman Who Had the Small Pox" in the 17 April 1856 Yorkville [South Carolina] Enquirer and many other newspapers:

This time he shouted it out in capital letters

Likewise, "The Sore Grievance of John Wellspanked" in 6 May 1871 The Shamrock says:

"TWELVE shillings and SEVEN pence?" roared my aunt in the biggest capital letters

Similarly, "Imaginary London" in the June 1873 Belgravia says:

'...Here, cab, cab, CAB!' The last monosyllable was a yell to which only capital letters can give due impression

Even more clearly, the 1880 The Standard speaker and elocutionist has a section of the book titled:

SHOUTING STYLE

This will be seldom needed throughout an entire piece, but wherever the words imply calling, or commanding, it will be in keeping with the words to employ it. As examples note the following selections marked in CAPITAL letters as the appropriate place for shouting emphasis.

The 1880 book then goes on for pages with examples from literature of all caps being used for shouting.

However, the earliest indication of a standard that I have found so far is from the 1852 Singing for Schools and Congregations: A Grammer of Vocal Music:

It is proposed that-
CAPITAL LETTERS, in printing, or double lines under the word in writing, should distinguish words to be sung louder

Another clear example is from the 1860 Elementary books for Catholic schools, explaining how to read stories with italics and all caps:

when you come to a word printed in this way [italics], you must read it more distinctly than the other words.

...And began to scream out as loud as he could,| "HELP!HELP!HELP!"

Observe these last three words: they are printed in capital letters letters because they are very important. The man cried, "help!" very loudly.

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    Yes - the convention of using capital letters to represent shouting/emphasis existed in print long before it was ever used online :-) – psmears Oct 27 '17 at 16:44
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    I expect caps as shouting really came about shortly after the invention of the printing press. – kbelder Oct 30 '17 at 19:06
  • It's notable that the examples given are all humorously self-referential (the self-reference presumably being precisely what made it possible to find them) and the humour of lamp-shading the convention depends on the convention being well-established. – Jon Hanna Nov 2 '17 at 11:35
  • Adam West and Burt Ward were demonstrating this as early as 1966 on prime time TV. – JMS Dec 6 '17 at 3:02
  • Can you also please elaborate on why journal names were written in ALL CAPS in the early 20th century? Like this one - "THE REACTIVE FORM OF GLUCOSE OXIME" Why aren't they considered to be shouting? – Gaurang Tandon Apr 6 at 11:06

SOMETIME AFTER 1984

BICAMERAL SCRIPT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR CENTURIES THOUGH THE RULES FOR ITS USE HAVE ONLY SOLIDIFIED IN THE LAST FEW HUNDRED YEARS. WHILE PRINTED MATERIAL WAS ABLE TO USE BOTH UPPER AND LOWER CASE, THE NEED FOR EFFICIENCY IN TELEGRAPH COMMUNICATIONS MEANT THERE WAS AN ERA WHEN ALL ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION WAS IN ALL-CAPS FROM THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY TO THE EARLY 1980S.

EARLY COMPUTERS WERE NOT ABLE TO DISPLAY LOWER CASE, OR DID NOT BY DEFAULT. WHEN PERSONAL COMPUTERS CAME ALONG, AND SCREEN RESOLUTIONS WERE HIGH ENOUGH, THEIR BROADER USE CREATED A NEED FOR LOWER CASE. THIS WOULD BE SOLIDIFIED WHEN CHARACTER SET STANDARDS SUCH AS ASCII AND LATIN-1 WERE WIDELY ADOPTED FOR LATIN SCRIPTS.

NEW REPUBLIC PUBLISHED AN ARTICLE HOW CAPITAL LETTERS BECAME INTERNET CODE FOR YELLING WHICH CONTAINS MANY REFERENCES TO POSSIBILITIES, BUT NO DEFINITIVE ANSWER. IT NOTES THAT ALL-CAPS HAS BEEN USED BACK INTO ANTIQUITY FOR EMPHASIS, BUT THERE IS NO CONSENSUS FOR WHEN IT BECAME WIDELY UNDERSTOOD TO BE YELLING, AND IN PARTICULAR VULGAR SHOUTING.

WE CAN PUT SOME BOUNDARIES ON THE DATE. THIS THREAD FROM USENET BACK IN 1984 PEOPLE ARE STILL DEBATING HOW BEST TO ADD EMPHASIS TO TEXT. THAT THIS DISCUSSION WAS HAPPENING INDICATES THE MATTER WAS STILL NOT SETTLED. VARIOUS THINGS ARE SUGGESTED INCLUDING...

  • ALL-CAPS
  • *ASTERISKS*
  • S P A C I N G
  • SwItChInG cAsE (WHICH I REMEMBER AS A MaD hAxOr THING)

T H A T   T H R E A D   I S   A M A Z I N G, *I'D SUGGEST YOU READ IT*

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    THESE DAYS, SPACING IS A FEATURE OF VAPORWAVE AND SYNTHWAVE ART GENRES TO EMPHASISE A E S T H E T I C QUALITIES. NEW TRENDS ON THE INTERNET CHANGE REGULARLY THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE ON THE INTERNET. – Notaras Oct 25 '17 at 23:00
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    IT'S NOT JUST ANY SPACING, TO BE TRULY AESTHETIC YOU NEED TO USE FULL WIDTH CHARACTERS – Slepz Oct 25 '17 at 23:34
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    Good on you, I've never +1'd an answer that makes me this uncomfortable. – GGMG Oct 25 '17 at 23:44
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    Gahhh sooo loud – imallett Oct 26 '17 at 0:01
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In the computer world, the use of ALL CAPS to mean yelling or shouting goes back to the days of Bulletin board system (BBS). The use seems to go back to at least 1984, and was one of three ways of emphasising text that had developed at that point

(things like bold or italic weren't available as options for text emphasis in those days).

  • CAPITAL LETTERS made text look "louder" (a.k.a. "shouting" or "yelling", depending on which side of the Atlantic you were from)
  • Using *asterisks* as sparklers to emphasise words.
  • S p a c i n g words out.
  • 5
    You missed colors. By the late 80s many BBSes supported ANSI color codes and even flashing. I once (in my youth) went a bit overboard with all caps, bright red, flashing text on a BBS. See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANSI_escape_code – Todd Wilcox Oct 26 '17 at 4:03
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    @ToddWilcox That's true for the late 80s, but back in 1984 very few of us had colour monitors (it was just 3 years after IBM had introduced the CGA), so using colours for emphasis back then would have been pointless. Most people just couldn't see them! – sempaiscuba Oct 26 '17 at 10:21
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    The advantage of using upper case over other forms of indicating emphasis is simplicity, speed, and availability compared to bolding, italics, or color. Every keyboard has uppercase, and the simplest monitor can display it. And in the emotional state in which you are likely to be "raising your voice" to let the rest of the world know your humble opinion, you don't want to take the time required for those other mechanisms. – mickeyf Oct 26 '17 at 12:11
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    Color displays were not rare in 1984, except among IBM PC compatibles. Color TVs were widely used as displays for personal computers. – barbecue Oct 26 '17 at 17:37
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    Note that while the Apple ][ computer did color at that time, the way it was implemented, colored text was difficult or impossible. (Two pixels next to each other appeared white. See wiki.) – Steven Burnap Oct 27 '17 at 17:56

There's a comment at https://groups.google.com/forum/#%21msg/net.flame/VbghoeOfwyI/E2mClWj2GV8J :

Capitalizing whole words gives the impression that you're shouting.

So the usage was already current in 1984.

Also, the mixed case suggestion isn't serious

http://cs.gmu.edu/~offutt/documents/advice/hints-net-write.html

  • Excessive capitalisation hurts the eyes reading it, just like shouting hurts the ears hearing it. – Mast Nov 1 '17 at 8:09
  • I hope the mixed case suggestion is serious. Mixed case is much easier to read. Mixed case means that letters are capitalized according to grammatical conventions. – Mark C. Wallace Nov 2 '17 at 13:58
  • Is this in response to @Schwern's answer by any chance? – DividedByZero Dec 27 '17 at 0:09

It is human nature to equate larger than normal characters with volume. It is also human nature to equate an exclamation point with shouting, just as it is human nature to equate a question mark with confusion. Whether it is a tweet, or whether it is a passage in an old book, the association is the same. This is true? This is true! THIS IS TRUE!!!! (see what I mean?)

Therefore, the association of all caps with shouting began with mixed case alphabets. It became prevalent with computers, as the need to go through editors and publishers to get one's written word out to the public was eliminated, and thus the safeguards for proper diction were also eliminated.

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    Our understanding of exclamation and question marks are not human nature; they're learned behaviour. Nor do we always equate larger characters with volume. For example, we don't interpret headings as shouting, despite the larger font. – Dan Ellis Oct 27 '17 at 20:30

protected by T.E.D. Oct 27 '17 at 10:25

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