And, should I rent the boss’s cottage?

CB_mcardleI have a colleague who uses ALL CAPS. ALL THE TIME in e-mails. We laugh, but should I say something?

Four years ago, a New Zealand health-care company fired its financial comptroller for sending e-mail messages written in all capital letters. Her employer deemed them “confrontational.” That a tribunal later pronounced her dismissal unfair and awarded her $11,500 in compensation is not the moral of this story. Instead, the lesson is that people really, sincerely, undeniably hate e-mails written in all capital letters. Here is a list of workplace annoyances, from least offensive to most: bad breath, improperly stored bear traps, a colony of angry bees, all-caps e-mails. Why do we despise them? Is it that all-uppers imply shouting, making each message feel like a memo from Sam Kinison? Yes, but there is also science at play. Miles Tinker, a University of Minnesota professor, determined our brains are accustomed to words in lower case, allowing us to identify them by overall shape even before we read individual letters. When a word is written in all capitals, it forces us to look at each letter, slowing reading by as much as 19%. He did not specifically consider e-mails, perhaps because his findings were published in 1954. But his guidance is even more important today. And to answer your original query: yes, it is your duty to intervene. “If she is writing e-mails to clients or suppliers in this style, then it will reflect poorly on your business,” says Matthew Strawbridge, author of Netiquette: Internet Etiquette in the Age of the Blog. Strawbridge recommends a gentle education: “Perhaps just mention that you find all capitals difficult to read,” he says. “If she carries on, there are numerous articles on the Internet arguing against this practice that you could point her to.” Or suggest she switch to telegrams, which welcome an all-caps format and ensure a minimum of correspondence.

Does it cost more to print those new Canadian bills?

Ask MacArdle badgeYes, the price of everything is rising—even making money. When the Bank of Canada released the wonderfully named Canadian Journey series of bank notes in 2001, each bill cost between six and eight cents to produce. Those bills were upgraded in 2004 with the addition of new security features, such as a metallic strip, hiking the printing cost to 10¢ each. That is a pittance compared with the Bank’s new polymer series. Printed on “biaxially oriented polypropylene substrate” developed in Australia, the new bills cost 19¢ apiece. While that may seem steep, the new bills will last 2½ times as long as paper bills. Using polymer will save $200 million over the eight-year life cycle of the money. Reports the polymer smells of maple syrup are mere rumours, but the cost savings remain delightfully sweet.

Should I rent my boss’s cottage?

During my brief employment by Elizabeth Windsor, she offered her summer residence for lease. The notion of borrowing Balmoral Castle seemed grand—until Wee McArdle spilled grape juice on the tapestries. Indeed, it was the ensuing disagreement over the security deposit that led to my banishment from the realm. Consider my woe before subletting your employer’s summer place. It may seem a glimpse into the lives of your betters, but it comes with risk. Vacations are meant to escape our working lives, not complicate them. Best to find a place where a broken knick-knack won’t imperil future prospects.

camelCase: The practice of writing compound words with the first letter lower-cased and adjoining words upper-cased, popular with 21st-century corporations (eBay, iPod)

Need advice? Want to settle a debate? Go ahead, ask McArdle anything:

Illustration by Peter Arkle