Addicted to novelty since 2001

Where Do Women Learn to Use All Caps?

Okay, generalization time. In blogs, women are looser with the rules of capitalization than men. This is not laziness or poor writing (at least, not in the writers I’m about to cite), it’s technique used for emphasis. Check out Dooce or Finslippy or Halley and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s a bit from Dooce:

My mother took Leta for eight hours yesterday WITHOUT BEING ASKED TO DO SO because she no longer cares whether or not I live or die. This doesn’t bother me at all. I mean, FREE BABYSITTING. And, finally, I have leverage in our relationship.

This is less reliable, but I’ve also observed that some more female bloggers eschew proper capitalization (and punctuation) altogether.

I’m not criticizing this technique when it’s used on a personal blog. Blogging can as free form or structured as you like. I’ve just noticed a real discrepancy between the genders in this breaking of the rules. I’m sure everybody can cite lots of examples of men doing so, and plenty of women who don’t, but I definitely think there’s a trend. The same was true, I think, in my creative writing classes at university.

Are women are seeking broader modes of expression because they are, on average, more emotional writers than men?

22 Responses to “Where Do Women Learn to Use All Caps?”

  1. Derek

    Some totally off-the-cuff unfounded speculation:

    – Using ALL CAPS and unconventional capitalization shows a smaller distinction between blogs/websites and e-mail, where such usages are more common. For some reason, men who blog might see blogs as more formal than women who blog do.

    – Using ALL CAPS is easier and faster than using italics or <em> tags, which would achieve the same effect, but for some reason, on average, men who blog are more pedantic about using typographical emphasis rather than capitals.

    – There are more men online who remember the days of all-text Usenet and e-mail who thing of ALL CAPS as not emphasis, but ACTUAL SHOUTING THAT BOTHERS THEM!!!!, so we’re less likely to use it.

    Honestly, though, while I’ve see the all caps differences between men and women, I haven’t noticed any particular split in unconventional capitalization. I know plenty of men who write with almost no caps at all, either in e-mail or blogs. Same for women.

  2. Sue

    Here’s another take on it: perhaps more women who blog (and by that, I mean have personal blogs) have jobs where grammar, punctuation and capitalization are key performance indicators. In response or rebellion, the blog gets used as a place to “let it all hang out” and be lazy about punctuation and grammar. That’s how it is for me, at least. I write properly for my job and when I’m writing my grandma a letter. When I blog, I give myself the freedom to break the rules.

    Another possibility — perhaps women who blog tend to do so in a more emotional mindset, where just getting the words onto “paper” is the key activity. Being correct isn’t as important as expressing emotions, and obsessive editing gets in the way of that.

    It’s a very interesting observation you’ve made, Darren.

  3. heather

    personally, i hardly ever capitalize, except when it is necessary for clear understanding or when i’m trying really HARD to emphasize something. ;)

    that being said, i’m an absolute stickler for spelling and punctuation. it’s just my shift key i’m not that fond of.

  4. Adriana

    To me, using all caps is the equivelant of shouting and I hate it when people use all caps since I intuit it rude (no need to shout). This makes life difficult as I spend sometime reading and corresponding with latin americans, who ALWAYS TYPE EVERYTHING IN CAPS. I’m invariably ticked off and have to remind myself of differing cultural norms.

    My favourite way to add emphasis to a word is to put it in stars.

    Ie.. He said *what*?

  5. Maktaaq

    >Are women are seeking broader modes of
    >expression because they are, on
    >average, more emotional writers than
    >men?

    Good heavens! No!

    I am very picky in grammar and punctuation, and, with the exception of one or two friends’ blogs, I can’t read blogs that don’t follow these rules. More than half of the blogs I read are written by women and they follow the correct rules.

    Also, on the topic of personal blogs, there are lots of more general interest blogs written by women that, for some reason, don’t get the attention they deserve.

    Because the female personal blogs get all the attention, it might skew people’s conceptions of a how a female blogger writes.

    (Or maybe, because I can’t get interested in personal blogs unless I know the people writing them, I don’t read enough female-written blogs and I am the one with the misconceptions?)

  6. Andrea

    I think this stems from the way girls learn to write in late elementary and junior high. Heart over the I, smiley in the O, cat’s tail in the y, lots of underlining, too many exclamation points, superfluous caps, doodles in the margins, curvy printing and so on. Email, blogs, text and IM provide fewer “emotigraphs”, so to speak. Most women came to the Internet for the communication tools, not the technology. So they ported their communication style. In comparison, men came up through industrial and government R&D, so they were handed Usenet style. Men also tend to be less expressive and more utilitarian in their writing.

    However, I haven’t noticed that lack of capitalization in blogs is unique to men.

  7. Luna Zoloq

    Kudos to you for being so bold as to suggest that there may be differences between the genders! Too many people today are shrinking from mentioning anything which could be construed as “Sexist” or some such conneries.

  8. Paige

    That’s an interesting observation. At first I rolled my eyes and sputtered a “whatever” until I remembered my latest blog entry: http://www.fivedamncats.com/blog/05may31.html … and indeed, I was emotional at the time. But moreso, I felt it was needed to get my point across (it’s so easy to skim over all that bland same-sized text haha). I don’t spend my caps freely however.

    What’s wrong with gender differences, or differences in general? My blog counts on it.

  9. 'nee

    Actually, part of what you may be noticing is Dooce herself. That is to say, many female bloggers read her – many, if not all? I first noticed the all-caps thing on her site (as well as using PERIODS. FOR. EMPHASIS.), and subsequently noticed a lot of her stylistic nuances being spread throughout the ‘net over the past few years. They’re catchy.

    However, the main point still stands – specifically, not using capitals always bugged me, and lots of female ‘bloggers do it.

    Women typically score higher than men on verbal and written comprehension skills, advanced language skills etc.; might this trend, if it indeed is a trend, be linked to that data somehow?

  10. Arwen

    I think it’s a matter of voice. At least to my inner-ear, there is a difference between ‘all over the place’ and ‘all OVER the place’ … both of which would be different than “ALL OVER THE PLACE”. Can I lucidly define these differences? Only personally: to me, the first two differ by degrees of emphasis. The third is heavy handed, and so would need to either be a punchline or a thesis point or avoided.

    I just went and looked at my own blog, and I variously use caps, bold, and, interestingly, the old-school *bold-by-way-of-asterik* for emphasis. In my writing, at least, it’s not a matter of having not been online for very long; this is why the asterik and _underscore_ slip in still.

    I don’t use italics very often. They’re more wry than I can legitimately pull off. I’m subtle like a sledgehammer.

  11. Dean

    Arwen: interestingly, some publishers want fiction submissions in old-fashioned monospaced fonts, with *bold* and _italic_ indicated. From what I read, that seems to be changing a bit, probably as the old typewriter-raised editors retire.

    With respect to the gender difference, I think that women (generalizing here) tend to try to convince with the force of their words, and men try to convince with the force of logic. A convincing logical argument tends to break down when you try TO USE FORCE to EMPHASIZE your *FRICKEN* ARGUMENT, while convincing someone with the force of your words falls a bit flat if your words don’t actually contain any emotion.

  12. Arwen

    Dean & Darren ~ Your theory of the emotional female voice is interesting, but I’m not sure it’s universally supportable.

    I would tend to agree with Darren’s observation that female bloggers often use a non-traditional style – and that it’s not just the “personal” and “mommy” blogs, but also the political and issue-based blogs. I will leave the discussion of newsy blogs behind, because I don’t know any female “look-what-I-just-found” blogs.

    Although political bloggers (male and female) get emotional, the thrust of their arguments tend towards the logical. Or the rhetorical. Emotional rhetoric is of the essence for both men & women (evildoer, axis of evil, winds of change, waves of freedom) – in most spin or discussion there’s not much actual logical content in play. Logic only works if you agree on first premises, and first premises are almost always emotive or intuited or simply a matter of faith. So, unless you’re discussing known physics, or known mathmatics, or are only “preaching to the choir”, you’re going to have to make a foundation for your first premise.

    I would suggest that there’s a *cultural* difference between the male and female blogs which equates to a matter of voice. Form and content are not identical: logical content can be similar but cultural form is a matter of playing to your audience. As a female blogger, (and given anecdotal stories somewhat supported by blog rolls), I tend to assume that the majority of my audience is female. If I’m doing anything besides spitting into the wind, it’s attempting to get other people motivated to think differently. If I’m not using a recognizable voice, (which may be Dooce’s influence upon us all: an interesting idea), I’m a little less entertaining while doing so.

    Looking at this mini-essay, actually, you’ll note that I starred *cultural*. Therein is my anti-thesis to your thesis. Is it emotional? Not particularly. (This is a very old discussion, in a very low key format.) If I were being funny, which I’m not, I might say CULTURAL. Context is key.

    It makes me wonder if there’s a misperception that the masculine rhetorical voice is logical?

  13. Johnny Nemo

    I first noticed the use of capitalized words for emphasis in MAD MAGAZINE a quarter-century ago. Their typed captions still use it. And periods for emphasis (“Not. One. Word.”) from comic books. Dave Sim’s CEREBUS has some of the best use of lettering ever.

  14. Rog

    I don’t think it’s a question of “more emotional” for women, I think it’s a question of “more rules” for men. Style often breaks/bends the rules, but it’s also usually more communicative.

    Personal blogs or otherwise, sometimes the strict adherence to various rules is a detriment to communicating, not the other way around. If you want a generalization, men get more wrapped up in the rules more often and fail to see the forest through the trees.

  15. ANONYMOUS

    MAYBE THE WOMEN WHO BLOG ARE ALL FROM CREATIVE FIELDS – LIKE ARCHITECTURE – WHERE YOU’RE TRAINED TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS FOR LEGIBILITY AND LESS CHANCE OF LETTERS BEING MISTAKENLY IDENTIFIED. MYSELF, I’VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THIS SENSE THAT CAPS = SHOUTING.

  16. Ada

    As a female blogger, and my God, a “Mommy Blogger” at that, I do find myself using caps at times.

    When I look back over my entries I can see that I began using caps the more confident I became in expressing myself. Yes, my grammar can be atrocious, but when I’m writing, the caps signify what my hands and my eyes would be doing if I were to tell you the story face to face. All my writing is this way.
    For instance:
    “Okay, you aren’t going to believe this. I saw a MAN breastfeeding this morning – little plastic hose and all! TELL ME YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE!”

    You get it? Emotional, yes. Grammar deficient – oh, most definitively.
    Basically, I believe I may be an all caps kind-of talker. However, is it my femaleness that makes me want to use the caps to replace my hand gestures? Perhaps.
    However, I don’t believe it’s that women are more emotional writers than men. I believe we may just be more willing to write our emotion visually.

    Oh, and Arwen: http://www.cyrenity.com/blog.html

  17. Ada

    MY GOD. I have to re-read these comments before posting them.

  18. Joie

    To start, I just want to say this:
    http://joie.typepad.com/joie/2005/02/you_are_a_gramm.html
    pretty much is proof I have the ability to use good grammar. But, I see my blog as a CONVERSATION through an alternate means of communication, not a formal written work. Therefore, it is important for me to show inflection and various shades of emphasis. If you were in my living room, I’d be using my hands. Without my hands, I have all caps and other creative uses of characters available to me on the keyboard. I don’t know whether the fact I am a woman makes any difference or not.

  19. Jen S.

    I think that I just tend to talk like Chandler Bing and it carries over to my typing. Could my kids BE any rowdier? :D

  20. Anonymous

    MAYBE WE READ EACH OTHER’S BLOGS AND FIND THAT PEOPLE LIKE YOU PISS US OFF ALOT CAUSE YOU’RE SELF IMPORTANT BOOBS WITH NO SENSE OF FUN OR STORY TELLING SO WE HAVE TO YELL ABOUT IT FOR EFFECT GET IT?

  21. tanypteryx

    I found your interesting piece on the all-caps phenomenon as a result of a Google search for “superfluous punctuation women.”

    I have to say upfront that a) I’m a woman; b) I’m as emotional as they come; and c) when I write, conversationally or not, I avoid using goofy, heavy-handed techniques like all-caps, multiple exclamation points and question marks, and variable-length ellipses like the plagues they are. My theory is that if I have to resort to a comic-book style to convey emotion or provide emphasis, then I’m not a very good writer at all. I won’t even get into the use of the sickeningly-cute smiley emoticons deployed in so many forums these days.

    Andrea makes a good point about the writing styles girls pick up in school. I’m troubled that these twee practices continue to influence female written expression. I didn’t like them in sixth grade, long ago, and I don’t like them now.

    So. I check out Mark Liberman’s Language Log a couple of times a week, mostly to see what current abominations the linguists declare should be standard usage. Yesterday a post by one Sally Thomason asked:

    Was Barbie right??

    Why on earth does Sally need that extra question mark? Does it make her question more important? Will the guys pay more attention to her now? If you read the post, you’ll see that she also assumes Barbie’s last name is Doll, which I find hilarious. Despite my creative, liberal arts education, I’m not stopped by reading numerals so much as I’m thwarted by silly crap like that.

    On the other hand…………screw it. Thinking is HARD. Let’s go shopping!!!

  22. Erica

    Barbie’s full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts. Just sayin’.

    If you listen to women talk, we have a huge range of expressiveness that sometimes can only be depicted with generous use of question marks or the tallest letters available (caps). It’s a form of decoration, too, to illustrate our point. Tonal nuance is lost in text communication, so ya gotta improvise.

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