Medial caps get camelised

Pic: The Wandering Nerd

A question on last week’s University Challenge made me think for a second. I don’t have an exact transcript but it went something along the lines of “In typography, what is the term for an uppercase letter in the middle of lowercase letters, particularly in proprietary or commercial names?” I was casting about in my own mind for the definition when in buzzed one of the contestants with the answer “camel font”. Jeremy Paxman agreed that this was good enough, but supplied the words which must have been written on his card, “camel case”.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the correct typographical definition. The one I was mentally searching for (and I confess that I had to find it after the show by going to the Wikipedia page on camel case) was in fact “medial caps”. These have been around for decades (think CinemaScope, AstroTurf, InterCity) but became much more common in the 1980s (think WordPerfect, PageMaker and, later, iPod and its ilk). Camelcase  is a definition of the same practice, but comes from computer programming rather than typography.

Writing about this, however, gives me a great opportunity to use the illustration above which I found on the Wandering Nerd blog when I Googled “WordPerfect”. This shows the little crib sheet supplied by the manufacturer which you were supposed to place above the function keys on your keyboard to remind you of the shortcuts needed for various operations: F6 for Bold, F8 for Underline, etc. I wrote the whole of my book Editing Design and Book Production for Small Publishers in WordPerfect. By the time it was published in 1993 it was already going out of date, with the arrival of DeskTop Publishing (more medial caps). But that’s another story.

By the way, Emmanuel College Cambridge beat St Peter’s Oxford in the University Challenge match. I think they may go far in this year’s series.

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