In July of 2020, Taylor Swift released her surprise album folklore, stylized in all lowercase. A 2021 NPR headline reads: “On ‘Sour,’ Olivia Rodrigo Is A Lowercase Girl With Caps-Lock Feelings.” And, ofc, we can’t 4get Ariana Grande’s 2018 bop “thank u, next”.
The lowercase girl has been here all along, though.
“People have been experimenting with different typefaces and writing patterns for as long as typing and writing have existed. This is not a new phenomenon of the internet or social media,” says sociolinguistics researcher Lauren B. Collister, Ph.D. She adds that it’s “a way of expressing themselves in written form.”
So then, what is the lowercase girl trying to express? What is it that makes a lowercase girl?
“One of the most iconic examples of [using lowercase] is the feminist author Gloria Jean Watkins, who wrote under the pen name bell hooks. She was publishing books in the 1970s and 1980s with her name all in lowercase on the cover,” Dr. Collister says. “There are some great quotes from her in this Washington Post article about her choice to use lowercase, which might resonate with some of the ‘lowercase girls’ today!”
One reason bell hooks chose not to capitalize her name was to try to keep the public’s focus on her work. “She also wrote to erase her young self, the young Gloria Jean Watkins,” writes The Post, adding that she described, “this death in writing was to be liberatory.”
“A lowercase girl texts and posts in lowercase letters so as to appear relaxed; we are the antithesis of thirst, having been terrorized by love lost so many times that we can no longer bear to even seem like we care enough to text you with proper capitalization,” writes Vulture.
“In general, people are used to seeing sentence case, whether they are reading a newspaper article or a blog post, checking Wikipedia, or consulting other more formal written language,” says Dr. Collister. “When someone is using social media, they might want their words to appear less formal, less like you are reading an article and more like you are having a conversation. One of the ways that people do that is with the case of their letters.”
“It is a widely accepted convention to use CAPS LOCK to indicate what a raised voice would do in speech—excitement or anger or a strong emotion of some variety. We might think of using all lowercase as another way to express yourself, but in a way that is less formal, and expresses a different meaning than ALL CAPS does,” she explains.
“Think about the expectations placed on women and girls for how to act and speak in different situations, cultures, and communities,” Dr. Collister says. “Perhaps typing in lowercase is one way of translating those ways of acting and speaking into new contexts and a different mode of language.”
Women have historically had to shrink themselves to be accommodating. So the decision to use all lowercase, which appears to have a softer tone than the more aggressive ALL CAPS, can be an act of defiance.
“growing up, i had a need to be seen as perfect. (where are all my people pleasers at?!) one way i tried to convey that i was a ‘good girl’ was in the way i communicated—especially via text, which, at the time, was relatively new. see, i was ~different~. i cared about preserving and upholding these ‘high literary standards’ that i didn’t realize were rooted in patriarchal nonsense. even though, with that t9 keyboard and even my t-mobile sidekick (lol), it required so much more effort. so, for me, when i finally started not worrying about capitalization or punctuation and just typed, it was kinda rebellious,” says our wellness editor. “it was taking back something i hadn’t even realized i needed to take back.”
Our managing editor is also a fan of the lowercase lifestyle. “i think i started writing in all lowercase during college. that was over a decade ago (old) and the peak era of tumblr. it just felt more casual and laid back—and, at the time, ~ creative ~. the way i text is very stream of consciousness, and it just looked off to have the proper punctuation. every time i get a new phone, i still turn off auto caps, and yes, people have called me out on it. i don’t care. this is my lifestyle!”
“i actually love that you text in all lowercase,” Brand Manager Madeleine Hooper tells her. “thats how i know i can f*ck with you.”
“People can choose to use these styles in different situations to convey different meanings or different parts of their identity, and change them at any time,” Dr. Collister says. “An interesting analogy here might be different ways of speaking. If someone who is usually loud and bombastic suddenly speaks in a quiet, hushed tone, you know something about the situation is different, and their tone communicates a certain meaning to you.”
In a sense, we can see this with artists like Taylor and Olivia, whose music shows them to be a lot more complex and dynamic than they are sometimes perceived—especially by men and by those who think that because of their popularity, their music can’t possibly have substance. This is especially apparent in the documentary Miss Americana when Taylor talks about the pressure she felt to be the good girl and for everyone to like her. It’s also worth noting that the documentary came out in January 2020 and covered her Lover era. So that was right before folklore, her first all-lowercase album and a dramatic departure from anything else she had ever done.
However, it must be said that there’s generally a different vibe between lowercase girls and lowercase boys. “When men employ this style, many believe it signifies something else entirely,” writes Bustle. “‘It’s a calculated and exhausting attempt to be casual that actually shows all the insecurity behind those tiny little letters,’” describes one of the women they interviewed. “They do it because they think a girl will find it cute, flirty, or attractive. If a guy is thinking that much, that’s nefarious,’” says another. (#notallmen, we get it.)
“Since case is easy to do on a conventional keyboard, and it’s built into all of our devices, then I see this continuing to be used in new and interesting ways,” Dr. Collister predicts.
We can try to figure out who the lowercase girl is, but ultimately, only the lowercase girl herself will ever know for sure.
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