Pre-internet, decapitalisation has a radical history. The poet e.e cummings, invariably stylised his name (as well as “I”) in lower case order to allow the reader a more fluid reading process and show his disavowal of hierarchy. The feminist theorist bell hooks decapitalises her name (itself borrowed from her grandmother) in order to decentre herself so that her readers focus on her ideas instead.
This upturning of grammatical norms is a means of questioning the status quo. “There is a prescriptivist attitude to capitalisation you learn in English classes,” says deandre miles-hercules, a PhD researcher in sociolinguistics at the University California Santa Barbara. “We can use language to reflect on and push back against systems and create new stylistic practises that bring attention to the systems by which we mean to deconstruct racism and sexism […] When [hooks] writes ‘imperialist’, ‘capitalist’, ‘white supremacist’, ‘patriarchy’ she is linking all these things together in a way that is fundamentally inseparable and rejecting conventional forms of writing that are embedded in that system.”
Interpreted literally, capitalisation might also be used to interrogate ideas of capital and capitalism. “Why do I capitalise ‘Black’, for example?” asks miles-hercules. “It is related to the fact that Blackness in its inception as a racialising category was actually about capital, turning people who came to be known as black into literal capital – property – in order to generate profit.”
While miles-hercules believes that artists tend to be at the forefront of cultural trends, they feel somewhat sceptical about the co-option of lowercasing by the mainstream: “There is a way in which these writing systems and orthography have taken on trendy or artsy connotations, without particular attention to its history. As soon as you might see someone using unconventional capitalisation on their single you see it on commercials for Target. It has become a way for brands to be relevant and connected to their audiences. It appeals to folks for the sake of profit rather than being actually disruptive.”