Why must we trundle out the Gaelic fonts, along with the corned beef, for St. Patrick’s Day? And what makes a script Gaelic? Perhaps it’s the association of uncials with the Book of Kells. Uncials are majuscules (all upper case), a script form which was developed during the early Byzantine era (fourth century) along with the new media of parchment and vellum. Like blackletter (commonly called Gothic or Old English) uncials are used only ceremonially or decoratively these days. Oh, that and for tattoos, and though uncials have no lower case, blackletter should never be used in all upper case (for God’s sake someone should send a memo to all of the tattoo parlors).
The etymology of uncial goes something like, “from Latin uncialis, from uncia (inch),” but Alexander & Nicholas Humez, in their brilliant book ABC ET CETERA The Life & Times of the Roman Alphabet, offer other etymologies. Uncial also could have been St. Jerome’s reference to either illuminated letters, or to “hooked” letters, depending upon how uncialibus was misspelled by the Saintly Dalmatian.
Either way, I agree with St. Jerome. Use uncials sparingly. Legibility is more important than ornamentation.