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Your pioneering editor gains allies in high places in lowercasing internet.

In the April 30, 2001, issue of The Newsletters on Newsletters, in an article headed "Is your editor committing a capital crime?" I reported that a reader wondered why we didn't capitalize internet.

"I told him that I guess I'm fighting a losing battle," the article stated, "because I've been doing it for years now expecting others to do the same--not because of my 'leadership' but because of the eminent sensibleness of the practice. I have simplicity on my side.

"He replied that all of the dictionaries and style books he consulted capitalized internet.

"I conceded that I have no defense beyond my own reasoning. To wit:

"Because the internet and the web have become so commonplace, they no longer deserve any status they had as proper nouns. It's like capitalizing telephone."

I also pointed out that the Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (which calls for capitalizing the word) offers a definition of internet that seems to favor my interpretation: "A decentralized network of host computers that are linked by high-speed lines."

To me, a "decentralized network" is not the same as, say the World Bank--or the Stylebook's entry following internet: Interpol, "Acceptable for all references for International Criminal Police Organization."

Still alone

I sent the article to Norm Goldstein, the editor of the AP Stylebook. He responded something to the effect that they were not going to buck common practice.

A few readers confided to me that they agreed with me wholeheartedly, but that their bosses wouldn't allow it.

So I remained what I wrote in the article--"probably the only person in America who doesn't capitalize internet."

Joined by one almost two years later

Then, the December 29, 2002, The New York Times Week in Review devoted a quarter of a page to the subject. It reported that Joseph Turow, a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, "has begun a small crusade to de-capitalize Internet--and, by extension, to acknowledge a deep shift in the way we think about the online world.

"'I think what it means is it's part of the everyday universe,' he said.

"Capitalization irked him because, he said, it seemed to imply that reaching deep into the vast, interconnected ether was a brand-name experience.

"'The capitalization of things seems to place an inordinate, almost private emphsis on something,' [Turow] said, turning it into a Kleenex or Frigidaire. 'The Internet, at least philosophically, should not be owned by anyone,' he said, calling it 'part of everyday life.'"

The Times reported that Turow had enlisted the support of some other professors, but the paper persisted with a concluding question for Turow: Don't you have anything better to do with your time?

"'That's a really interesting question,' he said. "I was an English major. I'm very sensitive to the nuances of words, and I'm very concerned about the nuances, the feel that words have within the society.'

"Fair enough," the Times article concluded, "Perhaps the next big thing, after all, will be small. At least initially."

Now joined by Wired News

Twenty months later, our campaign has gained an influential ally, Wired News. In its August 16 issue, reporter Tony Long, writes under the head, "It's Just the 'internet' Now," "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....

"[The] decision wasn't made lightly. Style changes are rarely capricious, since change plays havoc with the editor's sacred cow, consistency.

"But in the case of internet, web and net, a change in our house style was necessary to put in perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. That it transformed human communication is beyond dispute. But no more so than moveable type did in its day. Or the radio. Or television."

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Title Annotation:Editing
Author:Swift, Paul
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Sep 7, 2004
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