Alternating caps, also known as studly caps[a] or sticky caps (where "caps" is short for capital letters), is a form of text notation in which the capitalization of letters varies by some pattern, or arbitrarily (often also omitting spaces between words and occasionally some letters), such as "aLtErNaTiNg cApS", "sTuDlY cApS" or "sTiCKycApS".
According to the Jargon File, the origin and significance of the practice is obscure. The term "alternating case" has been used as early as the 1970s, in several studies on word identification.
Arbitrary variation found popularity among adolescent users during the BBS and early WWW eras of online culture, as if in parody of the marginally less idiosyncratic capitalization found in common trade and service marks of the time. This method was extensively used since the 1980s in the BBS-world and warez scene (for example in FILE_ID.DIZ and .nfo files) to show "elite" (or elitist) attitude, the often used variant was using small-caps vowels and capitalised consonants ("THiS iS aN eXCePTioNaLLy eLiTe SeNTeNCe.") or reversed capitals ("eXTENDED kEY gENERERATOR pRO"). The iNiQUiTY BBS software based on Renegade had a feature to support two variants of this automatically: either all vowels would be uppercase or all vowels would be lowercase, with the consonants as the other case.
Messages may be hidden in the capital and lower-case letters such as "ShoEboX" which spells "SEX" in capitals and "hobo" in lower-case. The webmail service Hotmail was originally stylized as HoTMaiL, which spells HTML in upper-case.
A meme known as "Mocking SpongeBob" popularized using alternating caps to convey a mocking tone starting in May 2017, leading to alternating caps becoming a mainstream method of conveying mockery in text.
Usage and effect
Alternating caps are typically used to display mockery in text messages.
The randomized capitalization leads to the flow of words being broken, making it harder for the text to be read as it disrupts word identification even when the size of the letters is the same as in uppercase or lowercase.
Unlike the use of all-lowercase letters, which suggests efficiency as a motivation, alternating caps requires additional effort to type, either by holding and releasing the shift key with one hand while hunting-and-pecking, or by intermittently pressing one shift key or the other while touch typing.
- Galluci, Nicole (19 June 2019). "A look at the Ubiquitous Habit of capitalizing letters to make A Point". Mashable. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
- "PSR-12: Extended Coding Style - PHP-FIG". PHP-FIG. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
The term 'StudlyCaps' in PSR-1 MUST be interpreted as PascalCase where the first letter of each word is capitalized including the very first letter.
- "studlycaps". The Jargon File, version 4.4.7. 29 December 2003. Retrieved 12 June 2009.
- McConkie, George W.; Zola, David (1979). "Is visual information integrated across successive fixations in reading?" (PDF). Perception & Psychophysics. 25 (3): 221–224. doi:10.3758/BF03202990. ISSN 0031-5117. PMID 461078. S2CID 26586800.
College students read a passage presented in AlTeRnAtInG cAsE on a CRT while their eye movements were monitored.
- Coltheart, Max; Freeman, Roger (1974). "Case alternation impairs word identification" (PDF). Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society. 3 (2): 102–104. doi:10.3758/BF03333407.
The prose passage was on the left page of a booklet, in upper case, lower case, or alternating case. This experiment, then, has shown that the alternating-case condition does, in fact, lead to impaired word identification, even when character size is the same for upper- and lowercase characters.
- http://www.iniquitybbs.com/docs/iniquity.docs.html[permanent dead link]
- Hathaway, Jay (May 9, 2017). "'Mocking Spongebob' is the most insulting meme of 2017". The Daily Dot. Retrieved January 6, 2020.
- Madison Malone Kircher (17 May 2017). "WhAt Is Up WiTh ThAt WeIrD, NeW SpOnGeBoB MeMe?". NYMag. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
- "What is alternating caps, and why shouldn't I do it?". Crydee.com. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
- Ching Yee Suen; Dyson, Mary C (29 February 2016). Digital Fonts And Reading. World Scientific Publishing Company. p. 64. ISBN 9789814759557.
However, as you might guess, reading alternating case is more effortful than reading all lower case or all uppercase text [...] It may be that alternating case disrupts normal word identification processes