THE CAPS LOCK KEY: Why is it there and how to reverse it

DID YOU KNOW THAT OCTOBER 22 IS CAPS LOCK DAY!?  (Sorry, we’ll stop shouting now!) If you see social media posts written entirely in capital letters on October 22nd, you should know that it’s because Derek Arnold created this (presumably ironic?) “holiday” in 2000 to call attention to the misuse of this button on our computer keyboards.
Photo of laptop keyboard showing caps lock key
Caps Lock occupies a prime position on your computer keyboard. But do you need it?
 So why is Caps Lock there, should you use it – and can you make it go away?

Why do we have a Caps Lock key?

The key lock for capital letters dates back to the era of typewriters. Typewriters worked by typebars striking a letter onto the piece of paper, and each typebar contained two symbols – usually the upper and lowercase versions of the same letter, or a number and a special symbol. To switch between the two symbols, you needed to push the Shift key, which mechanically lifted the entire typebar apparatus into the correct position. This actually required some finger strength, so if you needed to type a series of words or phrases in all caps, it could be difficult and tiring. This problem was solved with the development of the “Shift Lock” or simply “Lock” key, which held the shifting mechanism in place until it was released by pressing the Shift key.

Today’s computer keyboards are based on typewriter keyboards. It is interesting to note that the earliest computers only typed in capital letters, and even when they started using lowercase letters, it was not so physically challenging to hold down the shift key to switch between cases. Likely the Caps Lock key was included because pioneering computer firm IBM was also a leading producer of typewriters, and their computer terminals borrowed heavily from their typewriter keyboard layout – including a Lock key.

Unfortunately, the Lock key was historically located in a prominent position on the left side of the keyboard next to the “A” key, so today people often accidentally press it and type LIKE THIS FOR A WHILE; OR eVEN tHIS. At best this is annoying to the typist; worse is when you don’t notice it in time and send off an accidental SHOUTY message, and worst is when you mistype a case-sensitive password. This is why the Caps Lock key has been relocated on some computer keyboards, and completely banished from others like the Google Chromebook.

How to turn off caps lock

Fortunately, it’s very easy to switch the Caps Lock key off – just tap it once, exactly the same way you turned it on in the first place. A lot of systems will now signal that you have activated the key – a small message will pop up on your screen, the key itself will light up, or a beep will sound. And because it is a common occurrence, a lot of applications let you undo your mistake rather than having to delete and retype your sentence(s).

For example, you can correct text accidentally typed in all caps by selecting it and pressing Shift + F3 to toggle through upper- and lowercase options. Or to reverse caps lock in MS Word, simply highlight the text you want to correct, click the “Aa” button in the Font tab, and select the desired option:
Screenshot of toggle case function in MS Word
If you accidentally hit Caps Lock, use this button to correct your text in MS Word

For advanced users, there is always the option of remapping your keyboard to either deactivate the Caps Lock key or assign it a new function. For instructions for doing this on Windows or Mac computers, take a look at this WikiHow explainer.

When to write in all caps

Writing in all caps is generally considered rude because it feels like shouting. Unlike in the typewriter era, where capital letters were used to emphasize or highlight certain words or phrases, nowadays we have other options like using different fonts, boldface or italics. If you are truly upset and want to express that in your writing, however, all caps is a way to occasionally “raise your voice.” And obviously there are certain sector-specific uses for all caps, like highlighting certain words in legal documents. So just apply your common sense and be careful where you choose to capitalize.
Bonus explainer: What is above the CAPS LOCK key?
All you crossword fans out there know this is a popular clue for a three-letter word. So what is above the caps lock key? TAB, the key that moves the cursor to the next tab stop or cell of a table. You're welcome!

If you enjoyed this Caps Lock deep dive, leave us some feedback below!

Images: 1&1/pexals

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