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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
Great Runes
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Uppercase-only text or display messages. Some archaic
operating systems still emit these.
Decades ago, back in the days when it was the sole supplier of
long-distance hardcopy transmittal devices, the Teletype
Corporation was faced with a major design choice. To shorten
code lengths and cut complexity in the printing mechanism, it
had been decided that teletypes would use a monocase font,
either ALL UPPER or all lower. The Question Of The Day was
therefore, which one to choose. A study was conducted on
readability under various conditions of bad ribbon, worn print
hammers, etc. Lowercase won; it is less dense and has more
distinctive letterforms, and is thus much easier to read both
under ideal conditions and when the letters are mangled or
partly obscured. The results were filtered up through
management. The chairman of Teletype killed the proposal
because it failed one incredibly important criterion:
"It would be impossible to spell the name of the Deity
In this way (or so, at least, hacker folklore has it)
superstition triumphed over utility. Teletypes were the major
input devices on most early computers, and terminal
manufacturers looking for corners to cut naturally followed
suit until well into the 1970s. Thus, that one bad call stuck
us with Great Runes for thirty years.