Internet or internet? Should we capitalise the internet?

Image representing the internet over a map of the world

Whether or not to capitalise the word ‘internet’ provokes occasional debate. I used to capitalise and then Wired announced that they were not going to do so, I changed too. I figured they knew. However, I still see it capitalised in mainstream magazines and some clients insist on capitalising it.

For capitalising Internet

  • It’s a kind of place and places are proper nouns that get capitalised.
  • Lots of other people do it.
  • There are lots of internets (networks of networks) but only one Internet.
  • According to Wikipedia (not a wholly reliable source) The New  York Times, Associated Press, Communications of the ACM and Time capitalise.

Against capitalising internet

  • Capital letters are speed bumps for the eyes when reading. Like unnecessary punctuation, they should be eliminated where possible. (Some clients like to capitalise all Nouns and especially Multi-Word Nouns. Maybe they are German.)
  • As Wired says “That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television.”
  • According to Wikipedia, The Economist, The Financial Times and The Times do not capitalise.

My instinct is that the trend is towards the lower case. Certainly, that’s my preference. Welcome to the internet.

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19 Responses to Internet or internet? Should we capitalise the internet?

  1. Peter says:

    If we only think of The Internet as a medium, as Wired seems to do, then it would make sense to use lower-case. E.g. “internet broadcast” (without that all important “The”). But The Internet is also an entity, like The World or The Borg, and in that context it should most certainly be capitalised.

    Wired’s analogy is broken. “The radio” is a class of device, whereas “radio” is a medium. Compare:

    movable type — the book
    radio — the radio
    television — the television set
    The Internet — the home computer

    I don’t consider Wired an authoritative source on *anything*.

    There are also historical reasons for capitalising. The term “internet” originated as an abbreviation for “inter-network”, meaning two or more networks hooked up together to act as if they are one. Under this obsolete usage, a Wi-Fi laptop talking through a Wi-Fi / Ethernet hub to a PC on an Ethernet cable would be termed an inter-network, or an internet. The Internet was the proper noun for an internet with special status, just like, say, The Pill or The War.

  2. Do we capitalise the “world”? I don’t think I do. I’d capitalize the Earth, cos that’s a proper noun. Capitalizing the internet, is like capitalizing “the Sky”. That said, I just follow client housestyle or is that HouseStyle?

    db

  3. Jonathan Sumner says:

    Hmm. Some very good comments from the above. However, from a purely *subjective* perspective, I don’t think that the Internet has become (in its relatively short life) as mainstream as, for example, books, radio or television. That is why I still tend to capitalise the Internet in all my client-related copy … as well as in my personal e-mails/texts and even in my “snail mail” letters!. However, I take your point, Matthew, about the concept of “speed bumps”, which (from past experience) I recall are especially prevalent in legal literature (eg the Company, the Firm, the Contract, the Partners etc!) Incidentally, has anybody posted on this website (or elsewhere) about their views on the correct use of “e-mail” (ie with or without a hyphen and with or without capitilisation)? Personally I prefer lower case, but with the hyphen.

    • Simon Cornish says:

      Hi Jonathan. With reference to your mention of “mainstream”, and noting you wrote this in 2008, how do you feel now, in the future that is 2013? As a later comment states, it seems a bit old-fashioned to say “Internet” now, and since 5 years have passed I wondered whether the internet may now be considered as mainstream as books. In my little world it seems so. I understand its about context though, and it may always be possible to find a reason to say “Internet”. I’m going to try to avoid it though, The reason I stumbled across this page, 5 years on, is because I was asked whether the cloud should be “The Cloud”. I was hoping the answer would be “cloud” and not “Cloud” as capitalising it gives a term I’m not fond of more validity. Again it’s undecided and down to house style. It’s still early days, and I suspect the majority at this point refer to it as “The Cloud” but maybe in 5 year’s time it will be “the cloud” or, hopefully, just “the internet” or “remote storage”.

  4. Dan says:

    I’m down with the Internet crew. I love a good capital, it makes me feel like I’m writing about something important…

    Most media theorists use the capital, it’s the norm in academic work. But then again, who takes language lessons from the outcasts of academia? Hmmm.

  5. I used to capitalize it all the time even after Wired declared it would stop capitalizing it. Lately, I’ve been working with several clients who don’t capitalize it and find myself not capitalizing it much.

    I think the key is to be consistent within a web site, brochure, book, etc.

  6. --Deb says:

    Interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever given this particular subject much thought before, but I find that I interchange the capital with the lowercase, and as much as I’d like to say that it depends on the context, when I tried writing out a couple examples, just now, I couldn’t settle on one that felt right. How very odd. A question on which I have no opinion whatsoever because I think both answers are equally valid. I can’t remember the last time THAT happened!

  7. DaSuthNa says:

    We’re talking about two words here. The all lower case word – an internet – refers to any network composed of inter-networked networks (!). The second word – The Internet – is a particularly important instance at that, the global inter-network of networks. It’s a proper noun. Capitalise. Two words, two meanings. Simple.

  8. gia says:

    Capital I. You look like an ignorant ass if you use internet.

  9. Go Earth! says:

    I think you look a little…dated if you write Internet. If you capitalize it, I imagine you also have a Motorola Startac and a Zip drive.

    I agree with you on the case. As for those arguing that:
    – The internet is a place: Who says that? It’s a global system of computers…it is a network (of networks) and a network is not a place. Cyberspace is also a (unique) place and it is lower case. (I think I would laugh if someone walked up to me and said the internet is a place).
    – Lots of other people do it: There are lots of people who say ‘irregardless’ or ‘nukular’ but that doesn’t mean it’s correct. That’s not much of an argument.
    – There is only 1 internet: That’s been addresed.
    – The 4th bullet point is basically the same as the 2nd.

  10. edmcw says:

    As a proper noun “Internet” should, on the face of it, be capitalised, but when we use the word we nowadays use it in a meaning consistent with other forms of media (“in the newspapers”, “on television”, “on the telephone”, “on the radio”). These phrases no longer principally refer to the thing itself (the physical object that is a newspaper, television, …), but the medium behind it. Likewise, the phrase “on the internet” no longer principally refers to the place comprising billions of wires, chips and circuitry, but to the medium by which communication is carried.
    Change happens; let’s decapitalise those speed bumps.

  11. Steve S. says:

    I’ve always capitalized. I agree with Gia, a person looks ignorant or lazy if they don’t capitalize Internet. The book, newspaper, radio and television analogies are weak and ridiculous. There are millions of different newspapers, books, radios and televisions in the world but only one Internet. There are also thousands and thousands of radio and television stations in the world but only one Internet.

    As far as “The Cloud” is concerned, that should not be capitalized. A cloud is a datacenter. There are thousands and thousands of different private and government datacenters all over the world and they are not necessarily networked together, but all of them are networked to the Internet.

    • Simon Cornish says:

      I think the comparison between “internet” and “radio” is a good one. There are millions of radio devices and a radio broadcasting infrastructure that as a whole makes “radio” (not “Radio”). There are also millions of internet connections in the world, which as a whole make a single internet. I suppose there is a difference though. I wouldn’t say that millions of radio devices and their supporting infrastructure make “the radio” but I would say that millions of internet connections and their supporting infrastructure make up “the internet”. But maybe back in the early days of radio it was called “The Radio”. As new inventions become more commonplace they do lose that formality. Googling some more suggests that in North America that capitalisation is still common but elsewhere it is not. Wired mag doesn’t capitalise. Neither do The Guardian or The Times. The New York Times does. I admit to liking the unambiguity of the definition “The Internet is a Proper Noun, therefore it is capitalised”. But also I like the fact that language changes through usage, and so I am comfortable, reasonably, with my decision to continue using lower case. I hope I am not considered ignorant by anyone other than Steve S or Gia for making that decision.

      For pro-capitilisation see Grammar Girls’s notes. (I usually defer to Grammar Girl, and she almost persuaded me on this one): http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/capitalizing-proper-nouns.

      But then I wondered over Grammar Girl’s certainty that the internet is a Proper noun. When radio or television is not. Again, I realise individual television and radio sets are definitely not Proper nouns, but what about “radio” as a medium? Still not convinced, I found some more articles and as usual decided to trust in what I already believed:

      http://grammarist.com/style/internet-capitalization/
      http://www.gpuss.co.uk/english_usage/internet_capital_i.htm

      I’m off now to do more Googling using my lowercase web browser, which uses an internet connection on the, arrrrgh Internet. Damn it!

      • That’s an interesting and well-reasoned reply. Thanks. And it got me thinking – another argument by analogy for not capitalising internet is to consider other ‘networks’. For example we don’t capitalise ‘rail network’ or the ‘motorway network’ or ‘shipping lanes’ or ‘international transport hub’. The internet is a thing, possibly a collective noun, but it’s not a place that should be capitalised.

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