A Constant Case of Lower Case

One very interesting fact of the marginalia to me seems, that there are a lot of ambiguities and uncertainties which letter many of the shapes are supposed to represent — Yet all the reasonable options for even the most dubious cases appear to be minor letters.

Where have the capitals gone? How come, no matter how crappy the author scribbled across the tortured vellum, nothing looks like upper case?

4 thoughts on “A Constant Case of Lower Case

  1. Interesting observation, Mr. Vogt: There may be implications of this… maybe:

    1) Capitols, as they are used to designate mostly the beginning of a sentence, were dispensed with to hide the sentence structure. This would only apply to a simple substitution, though… where the cipher character would remain in the same position as the original.

    2) None would be needed in any system where groups of characters would represent a letter (like your stroke theory), syllable, or other plain text… what would you capitalize? In the stroke theory, the closest thing you would do would be to capitalize a whole group of VMs characters!

    But also, I think that often margin notes are written in lower case. I have an ancient scrap of vellum which fell out of the binding of my 1648 bible… it was used as filler. It seems to be a margin note in Latin, cut from some much older work. It is all in lower case…

    So I don’t know… just musing. What do you think the reason might be?

  2. Hi Rich, my point is not that the plaintext or the marginalia have no capitals — that is easy enough to understand.

    But obviously, we are unable to read the marginalia, and often are in considerable doubt as to which letter this or that shape is supposed to represent. However, none of the possible alternatives of the unreadable letters suggests itself as an upper letter. For example, we might say “We can’t read this, it could be ‘u’, ‘r’, or ‘v’.” But we don’t say “It might be ‘A’, ‘U’ or ‘S’.”

    I’m not so sure what the reason is. Perhaps someone with a better knowledge of renaissance cursives should look into it. Perhaps there actually are upper letters in there, and we simply don’t see them (but mistake them for lower case), because we are used to our more modern fonts.

  3. Hello Elmar,

    looking at the month names in the zodiac, which are
    mostly legible, they also don’t seem to start with

    Whatever that may mean (obligatory afterthought).


  4. Side notes are quite often written in all small caps in any language that does not capitalize words, except in the beginning of senteces or proper names.

    Your question why you tend to recognize that an unreadable letter is NOT uppercase is quite simple. Uppercase letters in renaissance handwriting (similarly to our roman type nowadays, which is based on the renaissance combination of Roman epigraphy for capitals and Carolingian handwriting for minuscules) are very distinct in shape, topology and graphic elements than lowercase letters. Also their composition is quite different. Strokes obey quite different rules. These you know at least unconsciously, that’s why you can recognize a shape *not* to be uppercase.

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