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Lombardo's Love for lowercase

Updated: Nov 9, 2018

By Anya Chabria and Kelly Farley


There are a few mysteries surrounding Polyphony. Is it Polyphony LIT, Polyphony Lit, or Polyphony HS? Why is everything on Submissions Manager written in bold? Is it pronounced pol-ee-foh-nee or puh-lif-uh-nee? We at Voices are determined to answer these questions, along with the biggest mystery of all: Why does Billy Lombardo write in all lowercase? Or, should we say, why does billy lombardo write in all lowercase?

Billy is our co-founder and Managing Editor--forwarder of 63,588 submissions, coordinator of 242 schedules (ranging from, “It’s been 2.33 hours! Where’s my next submission?” to “I can only edit submissions when the moon is a waning crescent--not waxing.”), and the sender of too many emails--all written in lowercase. Below, we present our best theories of why. We deemed it appropriate that all theories be written in lowercase. KEEP READING TO HEAR FROM BILLY (billy) HIMSELF!

theory #1: billy likes making the new editors think

billy is the first person a lot of us meet when we join polyphony. he is the one who we send that first email to, who sends us a copy of a mock submission, who lets us know if we’re ready to join or not. when you, a potential new reader, send billy an email with perfect grammar and capitalization that’s been proofread about 12300328 times, billy responds with all-lowercase.

panic sets in.

isn’t this a literary magazine? don’t they care about everything you hold sacred: the oxford comma, the dangling modifier, capitalization of proper nouns?

it hits you: is it possible that you are the one who’s in the wrong? is this some new, hip rule of language that you’re missing out on? are you supposed to be writing in all lowercase now? is it insulting for you to continue to reply with properly capitalized emails, implying that billy is somehow wrong and revealing your own un-hipness?

the first existential crisis about writing sets in. you’re not even a member of polyphony, but you’re already changing the way you think about language--capitalization, out of all the elements? he couldn’t’ve started off with something more forgivable, like the oxford comma? Instead, he’s making you question one of the commandments of writing: Capitalization.

is it possible that being a writer isn’t just knowing your capitalization rules? does writing involve *gasp* breaking rules as well?

theory #2: aesthetic

is there anything else to say here? nothing says “aesthetic” like an email that looks like a teenager’s text message. all he’s missing are some emojis. and maybe some memes.

actually, somebody tell him about memes. we want to see memes in his emails. please and thank you.

theory #3: some bad experiences with autocorrect

if this is true, then we can forgive billy. we can forgive him for all the self-doubt he’s given us when typing an email -- do we call him Mr. Lombardo? Billy? billy? are we obliged to write in lowercase as a response? if we do capitalize our emails, are we insinuating that we know more about capitalization than he does? if we write our names with a capital letter, is that a power play? are we about to start a coup?

if it’s all because of some bad experience with auto-correct, it’s all forgiven. kelly has some personal experiences that explain:

my name is kelly. do you know how many introductory humiliating texts i send like, “Hey! It’s jelly!”? the amount of emails to teachers that end with, “Sincerely, Jelly Farley.” do you know what it’s like for your phone to not know your own name? to be degraded to a FOOD? because i do. and i suspect billy knows as well. can you imagine sending the message:

“Hey! I’m silly!”

worse than “jelly” because it does not seem like a mistake of auto-correct. It seems like something a silly person would indeed send to introduce themselves. not ironically. the type of silly person you’d probably not want to respond to if you got a message from.

after ages (or maybe just a few times) of introducing himself as “silly,” i suspect billy turned off auto-correct. without automatic capitalization of proper nouns, of the first word in a sentence, of even billy’s name. maybe the aesthetic grew on him. maybe he liked the juxtaposition between bad grammar and good writing. or maybe he just has too many emails to respond to to care about capitalization. whatever the reason may have been, it’s inescapable now. nobody knows who Billy is. only billy.

theory #4: uppercase scares billy

okay, okay, i know this is ridiculous, but hear me out.

as my next 3 words should prove, UPPERCASE INDICATES SHOUTING. it implies AGGRESSION. worst of all, it highlights ANGER. what if the large, towering words intimidated billy as a child? what if there’s some personal backstory here that we don’t know about?

theory #5: billy doesn’t want to scare newcomers

think about it. if ALL CAPS implies an aggressive shout, all lowercase indicates a gentle whisper. perhaps billy just wants editors to feel more welcome and less intimidated when they read his messages. messages from the co-founder can be a bit scary; maybe, just maybe, billy wants to make it easier for us.

what does billy have to say for himself? We sent him an email so he could defend his defiance of the sacred rules of grammar. here’s what he said:

1) sometimes, when autocorrect capitalizes things for me, i go back and lowercase it, because I don't want the recipient to think that it was a deliberate uppercasing on my part.

guess this means our theory about autocorrect was wrong...billy does use it. though we must admire the trouble he goes through deliberately lowercasing.

2) it may have something to do with my teaching at school. when i started there I felt i was a bit out of my league; I felt like i had to prove myself among my peers. It was 1993 and i don't think we had email, then, but when we started using it, it worried me that it was suddenly so easy to communicate with a bunch of people at once, and that mistakes in grammar or syntax or spelling would out me as an imposter or a fraud. i felt i had to be really careful anytime i sent out an email.

kelly: ah-ha! i spy a capital i in here...

anya: make that three…perhaps it was intentional on his part, to show a transition from capital to lowercase. or perhaps that was human error. one can never know with billy.

3) a couple of things eased this pressure. john love (there was just an example of point #1 above. autocorrect uppercased John, and i went back and uncorrected it) was the director of the upper case, i mean upper school in the late 1990s/early 2000s. he was stupid brilliant and wicked fast, and though there weren't many errors in his emails, he was unapologetic when they did occur. and it freed me up to worry less about that sort of thing. the other thing was getting a book published, actually. i sort of felt like i had a little more professional cred, and it was less necessary to worry about the small stuff.

take note, published authors: you have now earned the right to write in all lowercase. if you ever accidentally use lowercase in a school assignment, just say you are emulating a published author. if that’s not a reason to submit to polyphony, i don’t know what is.

4) i've always been more comfortable shedding the formalities associated with a thing. i've never insisted on being addressed formally, for example. students at the my school call me by my first name, which, by the way, is also even more informal feeling than a lot of shortened names.

anya- not related to this article, but at my school, there’s a program where students refer to teachers by their first names. billy would fit right in.

was that my subtle way of encouraging billy to come to new york and become a teacher at the wheatley school? absolutely.

5) also, i don't like how my capital Bees look when i write longhand, and i like how my lower case bees look. they're really good-looking consonants in my handwriting. my effs are good, too.

aesthetic? is that you?

6) this may not be true at all, but feels like it is. i send a lot of emails, and lowercasing everything is slightly quicker

except when he has to go back and make all the uppercase things lowercase again...that takes time.

7) this was not intentional, and possibly not true--and I'm not sure if you want to include it in your very serious article, but i feel that a result of my lowercasing everything is that people sometimes think, who does he think he is? and I always want the answer to be, billy lombardo.

whoa. was billy being sarcastic (“very serious article”)? we think he was being sarcastic…

well, there you have it: billy lombardo, the most relatable teacher/managing editor you will ever meet.

Okay, back to capital letters. Thank goodness! Going back to lowercase took FOREVER.

Please note that everything written after this line is purely for satire.

So, after this conversation with Billy, we forced him to use capital letters. Here, we have a record of his reactions.

i don’t want to do this. do i have to?

okay, fine, fine! you were right: uppercase scares me. stop snickering, anya.

what sick sense of humor do you have? i could fire you, you know.

you’re right. i would never.

see, i haven’t used capital letters in over 200,000 years. i INVENTED the first lowercase letter.

oh dear lord, I used uppercase.

this is horrible.

this is insane.

We have returned to the Dark Ages.

Gah! I’m doing it again.

And again!



This is exhilarating.

What if I….


At this point, I must stop my recording. It seems that Billy has become infatuated with uppercase, to the point that he has begun--


Oh dear.


Anya Chabria is an unapologetic bookworm, Social Media Strategist for Voices and editor at Polyphony Lit.

Kelly Farley is a proud Chicagoan, the founder of Voices, and Executive Editor at Polyphony.

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