Neville Hobson

It’s internet not Internet says the AP


How do you spell the word ‘Internet’ when you write it? With a capital ‘I’ as I’ve written just now? Or all in lowercase form, ie, ‘internet’?

It’s a question the Associated Press (AP) is addressing and, partly reflecting usage change in recent years,  will make a change to its rule on this word in the next edition of its Style Book, that bible of American English grammer and usage especially by the mainstream media.

From June 1, 2016, the AP Style Book will show the word all in lowercase in the section that describes what the internet is, as the image above suggests.

Why is this a big deal, if indeed it is?

The AP says it reflects a growing trend toward using words all in lower case and that the word ‘internet’ – along with ‘web’ – has become generic, according to Poynter in a post about the change, which adds reference to an article in Wired by Susan Herring, a professor of information science and linguistics at Indiana University, who said this about the lowercasing of the word ‘internet’:

The fact is, decapitalizing internet is part of a universal linguistic tendency to reduce the amount of effort required to produce and process commonly used words. Not only does decapitalization save a click of the shift key, but, as one marketing website put it, “Capital letters are speed bumps for the eyes when reading. They should be eliminated where possible.”

Be that as it may, the AP’s announcement has provoked passionate opinion from those who support the change and from those who oppose it.

I’ve been writing ‘internet’ all in lower case for at least a decade. Here in the UK, The Economist – creator of the The Economist Style Guide, what I regard as the mirror of the AP Style Book for grammar and usage of original English – has used the word in lower case for at least a similar time, as have many British mainstream media according to a Wikipedia entry. And that entry says this:

In 2002 a New York Times column said that Internet has been changing from a proper noun to a generic term.[6] Words for new technologies, such as phonograph in the 19th century, are sometimes capitalized at first, later becoming uncapitalized.[6] In 1999 another column said that Internet might, like some other commonly used proper nouns, lose its capital letter.[7]

That view is supported by The Grammarist, a blog devoted to English grammar and usage, in a 2012 article:

The non-U.S. approach makes more sense. There is no good reason to capitalize internet. The convention in English is to capitalize the first letters of proper nouns, which are the official names of people, places, objects, or events. The internet is none of these. It was originally capitalized to differentiate the Internet (the global network that anyone can access) from an internet (any network of interconnected computers), but in common usage this distinction is now irrelevant. Internet is now just a generic term for the communication medium.

So has the time finally come to formally recognise changing linguistic behaviours and usage regarding a word that defines much about the huge changes in society wrought by technology over the past few decades? This is not a new argument by any means: traditionalists want to keep things as they are to respect the rules of grammar, while pragmatists want to see change that reflects change in behaviours and usage.

English is a fluid language, one that adapts and adjusts quite quickly, where contemporary changes in usage are becoming more quickly recognised – see the Oxford English Dictionary acceptances of changes and new words in recent years as a very good example.

The AP, representing a huge market for English-language usage, thinks it is time.

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