SHOUTING; emphasis?

Michael Quinion TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG
Mon Sep 9 08:50:38 UTC 2002

> It has always seemed to me more than a little weird to describe
> utterances printed in caps as "shouting," since "shouting" is by
> definition aural and e-mail is visual. (My e-mail reader does not
> speak caps any more loudly than it does lower-case utterances.)
> The idea that caps = "shouting" is something that somebody made up
> within the last dozen years, right? And isn't it a "rule" that is
> somewhat fading from the scene?

Not on Usenet, where it originated - if you post all-caps messages
in any Usenet group today you are likely to be asked to stop doing
so. It goes back to the earliest days of that system (early 1980s)
but the first example I can find that expresses the idea is from
Oct 1985: "I call USING CAPITAL LETTERS when there is no need to
(ie the keyboard has a set of lower case letters :-}) screaming".
By 1992, it was receiving widespread and regular condemnation, as
by then virtually all computer keyboards had both upper and lower
case on them.

The usage is an interesting and very understandable figurative
extension of 'shout'. It has real psychological underpinnings, I am
told. All-caps messages are harder to read than a mixture of caps
and lower-case and they do seem to jump out of the page at you in
an aggressive way. If you write in caps when you don't have to, you
are using one well-understood method of emphasis.

It may be of interest to the original poster that all-caps messages
can mark one very negatively. Journalists refer to the "green ink
brigade", because letters to newspapers written in green ink always
seem to be from raving nutters - all-caps messages online are often
viewed in much the same light.

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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