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Nitpicky Style Guide Item: The Internet is the internet

by Angie Halama on February 10th, 2009

You may remember Kristina's post about style guides. Style guides make writers happy because they can follow the rules the first time, and they make businesses happy because the writers are speaking the language. And hammering out style details at the beginning saves needless time and expense to clean up these small details at the end of a large project. 

As such, we writers have regular discussions about troubling words or troublesome tasks of cleaning up misunderstandings about capitalization, em dashes, and the like. Here's one of the latest, when we officially decided not to initial cap “internet” anymore, whether it’s used as a noun or an adjective.

As I recall, the decision came about something like this:   

Angie 1.0 (me): Hey, everyone! Should we initial cap internet when we use it as a noun?

Angie 2.0: I don’t like capitalizing Internet. Or Web. Or InterWebs.

Katie: Yeah! I hate capping things.

Meghan: But didn’t we agree to initial cap “web” when we use it as a noun?

Angie 2.0: When did we agree to that?

Angie 1.0: Didn’t you get that email?

Meghan: Wired magazine doesn’t initial cap internet. And isn’t the rule about initial capping it in the process of changing?

Angie 2.0: And Wired is on the cutting edge of that change.

Angie 1.0: Right. Eventually nobody will initial cap internet.

Erin: Once the dictionaries catch up.

Meghan: Yes, let’s be on the cutting edge of change!

Everyone: Yeah!

Angie 1.0: Remember that movie The Net with Sandra Bullock?

Erin: Wasn’t that about identity theft on the internet?

Angie 2.0: Yeah, something like that. Do we have to initial cap “Net” when we use it as a noun?

Katie: We are NOT using “the Net.” Under any circumstances.

Everyone: YEAH!

A quick perusal of a few industry blogs revealed an inconsistent style on initial capping internet. So we turned to Wired for some guidance. In 2004, it declared that on its pages internet and web (and net) would not be initial capped anymore. We’re happy to officially join the trend—since we believe it will become a rule anyway. 

It’s definitely becoming a rule in our house style guide.

  • http://www.theimagelab.com Jennifer b.

    This post made me think about how funny it would be if always had to initial cap things like the Electricity and the Phone, etc. I’m in full agreement with your decision, as you say The Internet is the internet.

  • http://www.theimagelab.com Jennifer b.

    This post made me think about how funny it would be if always had to initial cap things like the Electricity and the Phone, etc. I’m in full agreement with your decision, as you say The Internet is the internet.

  • Anonymous

    I have an aversion to capitalization, too. (See “Against Capitalization”.)
    Unfortunately, the org. I work for follows AP style, which dictates “Web site.” Every time I write or read that phrase, I feel briefly transported back in time.

  • http://www.scripps.org Dan Haley

    I have an aversion to capitalization, too. (See “Against Capitalization”.)
    Unfortunately, the org. I work for follows AP style, which dictates “Web site.” Every time I write or read that phrase, I feel briefly transported back in time.

  • Mollie

    It’s wonderful to hear other people earnestly discussing capitalization. In fact, I’ve just teared up a little. Rampant capitalization in general has been driving me crazy.
    I often hear the argument, “But it’s a specific thing!”
    To which I reply, “So is that pen on the table.”

  • Mollie

    It’s wonderful to hear other people earnestly discussing capitalization. In fact, I’ve just teared up a little. Rampant capitalization in general has been driving me crazy.
    I often hear the argument, “But it’s a specific thing!”
    To which I reply, “So is that pen on the table.”

  • Shannon

    I love the Discussion. While I personally think we should require a license to use the shift key, we’re going to need to wait for corporate style guides, accepted style guides (AP), and Webster’s to catch up.

  • Shannon

    I love the Discussion. While I personally think we should require a license to use the shift key, we’re going to need to wait for corporate style guides, accepted style guides (AP), and Webster’s to catch up.

  • http://familieslikemine.com Abigail Garner

    Angie 1.0: Right. Eventually nobody will initial cap internet.
    Erin: Once the dictionaries catch up.

    I agree. While I was working on a book in 2003, copy editors at the publishing house were adamant about using “Internet” and “Web site.” I made a case similar to yours and was able to get the book published with those words in lower case…and made “website” one word.

  • http://familieslikemine.com Abigail Garner

    Angie 1.0: Right. Eventually nobody will initial cap internet.
    Erin: Once the dictionaries catch up.

    I agree. While I was working on a book in 2003, copy editors at the publishing house were adamant about using “Internet” and “Web site.” I made a case similar to yours and was able to get the book published with those words in lower case…and made “website” one word.

  • Josh

    I would hope that a self-identified writer with an interest in usage would know that “as such” is not a synonym for “therefore”.

  • Josh

    I would hope that a self-identified writer with an interest in usage would know that “as such” is not a synonym for “therefore”.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1228230939s22104 Angie Halama

    You’re totally right, Josh. Thanks for pointing this out. All writers make mistakes now and then.
    We love being part of a smart community of people who care about web writing. It’s one of the reasons we have this blog. So thanks for your comments, everyone! Keep ‘em coming.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/1228230939s22104 Angie Halama

    You’re totally right, Josh. Thanks for pointing this out. All writers make mistakes now and then.
    We love being part of a smart community of people who care about web writing. It’s one of the reasons we have this blog. So thanks for your comments, everyone! Keep ‘em coming.

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