Capitalization Madness

I’ve always hated the industry trend toward capitalization of the words “internet” and “web.” The arguments in favor of capitalization are that one or the other are proper inventions and thus count as proper nouns. Other arguments maintain that because “web” comes from the acronym “World Wide Web,” it should carry the capitalization with it from the acronym.

I don’t buy either argument. Lots of things are invented but aren’t proper nouns. The internet isn’t a product like a Yo-Yo or a Segway. It’s a technology, like “computer” or “radiation.” These words are no more deserving of proper noun status than are “power grid” or “sky.” Heck, we don’t even capitalize “earth” in most contexts.

Nevertheless, more style guides and publications are formalizing the capitalization of these pedestrian terms, elevating them to a god-like or person-like or country-like status I don’t think they deserve.

Should "Internet" and "Web" be capitalized?

View Results

Update 08/08: In 2004 Wired magazine changed their official house style to lowercase internet and web. Now waiting for the rest of the world to get on board…

Music: The Fugees :: Fu-Gee-La

18 Replies to “Capitalization Madness”

  1. i’ve been debating this with levi asher (and you) for years. it’s a tough call. i’ve fallen into using “Web” for the one worldwide web and “web” for the adjectival form and for any smaller or otherwise nonuniversal web of web pages. With the other, it used to be “Internet” for the one true Internet and “internet” for any smaller network running on TCP/IP and other internet protocols, but then the term intranet appeared and sort of obviated that old usage.

    I’d go along with lowercasing it all, but since I write books I have to deal with copyeditors…

  2. Just these days I found the ‘Design and Implementation of 4.4BSD’ talking about “the DARPA Internet”, which suggests to me that “internet” really started out as a proper name for a network and only over time came to represent the technologies used to built the network.

  3. Hm, Internet becoming internet as Xerox becomes xerox and Kleenex becomes kleenex.

    Except no-one copyrighted the term back in the day.

    Actually this is the best usage-based argument for it I can think of. Much better than the obvious analogies technophiles make between the internet and the ocean – that’s what it looks like to us, but it’s inaccurate, since the internet is not naturally occuring.

    Another intriguing pickle in ths matter is the way we use the words: we speak of “ocean” and “the ocean” but only slightly overeducated brits use both “internet” and “the internet”. To see what i maen, here’s my first use of both words here without the the:

    Much better than the obvious analogies technophiles make between internet and ocean – that’s what it looks like to us, but it’s inaccurate, since internet is not naturally occuring.

    See how that’s just wrong?

    I guess then that words like telephone are the best representative of what we are seeing.

    Ah well, the debate goes on.

  4. Pingback: Sidelights
  5. Personally, I’ve usually capitalised the Internet, on the basis that there’s only one, like the Earth or the Pope. OTOH, I usually don’t capitalise the web, on the basis of inconsistency, I suppose.

  6. Ooh, since NelC reopened a dead thread, I’ll jump in with a digression.

    To mikepop: When I copyedited for Macmillan about 12 years ago, I pushed for email with no hyphen. But a check of an unabridged dictionary showed email as a fairly obscure but long-lived word. IIRC, it’s pronounced ay-MY(l), and refers to a yellowish/brownish/grey color. From the French for vole or something. Use it on those days when taupe just won’t do.

    My Webster NCD shows it as E-mail, with a hypen and a capital!

  7. We capitalize “proper nouns”, to indicate their status as proper nouns. A “proper noun” is not a rigidly defined thing, as even the invariably sappy Chicago manages to grasp; still, the root of the term is a clue: proprius, “one’s own”. A proper noun is thus the name of a particular thing: this is Jane, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge, yonder is the Internet. It makes little sense to speak of “an internet”–there is only one–so Internet is its “proper” name as Jane is her own name and Brooklyn is the bridge’s (and borough’s) own name.

    The case for web is, I feel, less definite. Indeed, if we accept the idea that there can be more than one “web”, we have a useful distinction: “the Web” is the one and only WWW, while “the web” is some other similar network. (If, though, we do not accept that there can, in normal and reasonable use, be more than one web, logic leads, as with the Internet, to the Web.)

  8. Eric –

    There is only one sky. If going by the logic that we capitalize that which there is only one of, why is sky not capitalized? I hold that the internet / the web are in the same category as the sky.

  9. There’s a difference between *an* internet — any network that uses TCP/IP as the protocol — and *the* Internet — the specific network-of-networks that I’m using right now to post to this website.

  10. Geoff – “internets” that are not in some way connected to “the Internet” — and thus a part of it — are so rare that the distinction is almost purely academic.

  11. There is only one sky. If going by the logic that we capitalize that which there is only one of, why is sky not capitalized? I hold that the internet / the web are in the same category as the sky.

    The logic is not that what there is one of is a proper noun–there can be more than one “Jane Smith”–but that a proper noun is proper, is the name of a particular thing.

    We can look at the paintings of Chesley Bonestell and refer to the appearance of the sky of Mars, or of Jupiter, so there is not, in fact, one “Sky”. A network using the same methodology as the Internet but not part of it is, so far as I can see from all sources, not “an internet” but rather “an intranet”.

    Mars has two moons, but the moon we talk about sending men to again is the Moon, because that’s its name (popularly, anyway).

  12. Goodnight, Moon. Goodnight, Sun.
    Goodnight, thing of which there’s one.
    Goodnight, time, and goodnight, space,
    and goodnight, things in lower case.

  13. I have to go with the lower-case majority. The internet is not a specific thing, it’s just another name for a network of computers. Perhaps it does not even deserve the definite article that normally precedes it and should be simply “internet”.

    P.S. I use email, as I’m lazy and it saves me a keystroke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.