Capital letters or majuscules (pronounced /məˈdʒʌskjuːlz/, /ˈmædʒəskjuːlz/) are the larger of two type faces in a script. In the Roman alphabet they are A, B, C, D, etc. They are also called capitals (caps) or upper case (uppercase). The latter name comes from the antique age of setting type for printing presses, when printers kept the type for these letters in the upper drawers of a desk or in the upper type case, while keeping the type for the more frequently-used smaller letters in the lower type case. This practice could date back to Johannes Gutenberg, but nobody really knows.
Capital and minuscule letters are differentiated in the Roman, Greek, Cyrillic, Armenian, and Coptic alphabets. Many other writing systems (such as those used in the Georgian language, Glagolitic, Arabic, Hebrew, and Devanagari) make no distinction between capital and lowercase letters – a system called unicase. Indeed, even European languages, except for Ancient Greek did not make this distinction before about the year 1300. Both "majuscule" and "minuscule" letters existed, but the printing press had not been invented, yet, and a given handwritten document could use either one size/style or the other. However, before about 1700 literacy was very low in Europe and the Americas, hence even handwriting was not used or understood by more than about one percent of people. Therefore, there was not any motivation to use both upper case and lower case letters in the same document: all documents were for the use of a few scholars, anyway.
Historically, the majuscule glyphs preceded the minuscules, which evolved from the majuscules for use in cursive writing. In Western European writing they can be divided into four eras:
- Greek majuscule (9th – 3rd century B.C.) in contrast to the Greek uncial script (3rd century B.C. – 12 century A.D.) and the later Greek minuscule
- Roman majuscule (7th century B.C. – 4th century A.D.) in contrast to the Roman uncial (4th – 8th century B.C.), Roman Half Uncial, and minuscule
- Carolingian majuscule (4th – 8th century A.D.) in contrast to the Carolingian minuscule (around 780 – 12th century)
- Gothic majuscule (13th and 14th century), in contrast to the early Gothic (end of 11th to 13th century), Gothic (14th century), and late Gothic (16th century) minuscules.
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