The Internet Gets Smaller

by on August 17, 2004 · 6 comments

Yesterday Braden linked to this Wired News story:

Effective with this sentence, Wired News will no longer capitalize the “I” in internet.

At the same time, Web becomes web and Net becomes net.

Why? The simple answer is because there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was.

True believers are fond of capitalizing words, whether they be marketers or political junkies or, in this case, techies. If It’s Capitalized, It Must Be Important. In German, where all nouns are capitalized, it makes sense. It makes no sense in English. So until we become Die Wired Nachrichten, we’ll just follow customary English-language usage. (Web will continue to be capitalized when part of the more official entity, World Wide Web.)

This is confused. First off, “Net” is just short for Internet, and probably shouldn’t be used in formal writing at all. When it is used, it should be preceded by an apostrophe.

“The Internet” is the name of a specific computer network, and it should be capitalized because it’s a proper noun– the same way “Sun” and “Moon” are proper nouns. (interestingly, my Chicago style manual says that “Earth” is only capitalized when it’s not preceded by “the”)

The web is arguably not a proper noun– it’s a conceptual grouping of content that’s served using the HTTP protocol. It’s not quite as obviously the name of a single, distinct thing as “the Internet” is. So I’m open minded about whether the web should be capitalized. However, I completely fail to see the logic for capitalizing “World Wide Web” but not “web.” If the one is a proper noun, so is the other.

We don’t capitalize “Internet” to make a statement about how important it is, but because in our language, proper nouns get capitalized. Since Wired doesn’t expand on what exactly “customary English-language usage” requires, it’s hard to know what their argument is. Wired seems to be trying to make some kind of political statement here, but it seems like it falls flat to me.

  • Neb Okla

    I think that every once in a while, Wired likes to try to tell everyone how things are going to be. Then any time they see Internet spelled in lower case, they can claim responsibility and feel important – despite the fact that none of my friends who subscribed to wired in 1996 do today.

  • Neb Okla

    I think that every once in a while, Wired likes to try to tell everyone how things are going to be. Then any time they see Internet spelled in lower case, they can claim responsibility and feel important – despite the fact that none of my friends who subscribed to wired in 1996 do today.

  • Anonymous

    Well, Wired is just saying that “internet” is no longer a proper noun. It’s general, like road or tree or desk.

    It’s weird though, because it’s not like “internet” refers to a class of objects, so you would think it would be capitalized. Also, that sentence about no historical precedence or whatever seems entirely lazy and bogus. Like somebody asked, “Why do we capitalize Internet anyway?” and somebody replied, “Damfino.” and that’s all they thought about it. Al Gore be damned.

    (P.S. on the Chicago Manual thing…try this: “I stuck my shovel in the earth.”
    vs. “I stuck my shovel in the Earth.”

    Doesn’t the second make you feel like you’re some sort of interstellar being? I know I do.)

    MadS

  • Anonymous

    Well, Wired is just saying that “internet” is no longer a proper noun. It’s general, like road or tree or desk.

    It’s weird though, because it’s not like “internet” refers to a class of objects, so you would think it would be capitalized. Also, that sentence about no historical precedence or whatever seems entirely lazy and bogus. Like somebody asked, “Why do we capitalize Internet anyway?” and somebody replied, “Damfino.” and that’s all they thought about it. Al Gore be damned.

    (P.S. on the Chicago Manual thing…try this: “I stuck my shovel in the earth.”
    vs. “I stuck my shovel in the Earth.”

    Doesn’t the second make you feel like you’re some sort of interstellar being? I know I do.)

    MadS

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  • http://www.jellybean.com KarlaX

    Great blog you have going on. KarlaX

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