This article was published on March 24, 2012

Should we still write Internet with a capital ‘i’?

Should we still write Internet with a capital ‘i’?
Jamillah Knowles
Story by

Jamillah Knowles

Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemi Jamillah is the UK Editor for The Next Web. She's based in London. You can hear her on BBC Radio 5Live's Outriders. Follow on Twitter @jemimah_knight or drop a line to [email protected]

Writing for any organisation means working with a style guide. There are the classics, such as AP Stylebook that lay out standards for writing and are put in place to create consistency across a publication. Against this lies the progression of language and the rate at which English is prone to change.

So now that so many of us conduct portions of our lives online, should we still be captalising the word Internet? (I ask this with full acknowledgement that I am referring more to countries with a larger rate of Internet penetration and use of the English language, so you don’t have to email me about that)

Over on the AP Style site, there has been change to the English language when it comes to our online references and acitivities:

AP style is email (changed from e-mail), but other e- words are hyphenated: e-commerce and e-book. Our amended style is website (one word, lowercase w), along with other compounds: webcam, webcast, webmaster. The Web is capped as a short form of World Wide Web, as are Web page, Web feed.

As for the word in question, AP Style says:

Internet: A decentralized, worldwide network of computers that can communicate with each other. In later references,the Net is acceptable.

Historical debate

The way the word Internet is written has been under debate for years. Historically internet standards communities have called for the Internet to be addressed as a noun proper with ‘internetworking’ and ‘internets’ being rare examples where lower case may be used.

The alternative debate highlight other words that signify unique but distributed use such as, ‘telephone network’.

It’s still a surprisingly hot debate with individual websites set up to declare the case for capitalisation.

Media influence

More often we take our written style from mainstream media outlets, assuming what we read there is the correct way to write. A check around the web will show you that the BBC often drops the caps, as does The Times (paywall) though the latter has been known to use both, The Times of India prefers the capital letter as does The New York Times. That’s a fairly mixed set of rules.

In a highly unscientific straw poll, I threw the question out to readers and followers online. The majority of people who responded wanted to drop the upper case spelling. The main reason appeared to be ubiquity in their location.

Here are some’ some of that reasoning:

Mecca Ibrahim, “It’s so ubiquitous & widely available it would be like saying I turned on my Electric Light this morning”

Elisabeth Varley, “I think because it’s become a utility & so much part of everyday life for so many.”

JC Hutchins, “No compelling need to maintain its status as a proper noun … but I gotta say, it just feels wrong writing it with a lowercase i.”

J.Nathan Matias, ” I tend to use Internet. AP changed Website to website in 2010, so it’s probably high time we use the lowercase i. that said, I think there are some uses which would be more awkward without the capital. For example: The Internet believes kittens are more important than sriracha. Tragedy!”

Jess McCabe, “No to capitalisation. It’s like capitalising Books or Newspapers or Telephone. Plus it’s just about as archaic as e-mail or ‘phone. And the rule of thumb is, if in doubt, don’t capitalise.”

Benjamin Ellis, “As one of its (many) architects & builders I say capital ‘I’ – it’s power was in creating a singularity.”

As the English language changes with common usage, does this mean we might finally see the word Internet demoted to a common noun? The web has already introduced new words to the Oxford English Dictionary such as ‘woot‘ and ‘retweet‘, so why stop there?

I am willing to think that over time this will be the case, but for now the rules of grammar apply to the technical side of the argument. I encourage you to chip in and share your reasons in the comments, you might just end up changing a language.

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