Making Sense of Capitalization: The Case of “Internet” vs “internet”
Language is a living, evolving entity, and the changes it undergoes often reflect shifts in society and technology. A great example of this is the debate around the capitalization of the term “internet”. Should it be capitalized as “Internet”, implying it’s a proper noun, or written in lowercase as “internet”, treating it as a common noun? This might seem like a trivial question, but it brings to the fore the intricate rules of English grammar and the complexities of language evolution in the digital era.
Historically, the term “internet” originated from “interconnected network”. As it gained popularity, it became “Internet”, a proper noun, referring to the worldwide, publicly accessible network of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using a standardized Internet Protocol.
For several decades, the convention was to write it with an initial capital letter. In this perspective, there’s only one “Internet” – the global digital information infrastructure we all connect to. Various dictionaries, style guides, and international standards prescribed the capitalized form reflecting this unique status.
However, as the internet became ubiquitous, some began questioning whether it still feels like a proper name. They argued that it’s become a generic term for a common service, something more akin to “electricity” or “water supply”. This shift in perception led to increasing usage of the lowercase “internet”. So the “Internet” slowly morphed into the “internet”.
This change was notably marked in 2016 when the Associated Press announced that it would henceforth endorse the term “internet” in lowercase. Other news outlets and style guides soon followed suit.
That said, the capitalization of “internet” is not uniformly accepted. The New York Times, for instance, stuck to its uppercase usage until 2020. Moreover, certain contexts, especially academic or legal writing, may still prefer or require the capitalized version.
The case of “Internet” versus “internet” serves as a snapshot of how language, technology, and society intersect. It reminds us that language rules aren’t set in stone but evolve with changing times. It also underscores the importance of staying updated with such changes, especially in the realm of written communication.
Whether you choose “Internet” or “internet” largely depends on the standards of your specific context, audience, and purpose. And if in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek expert help, say, from proofreading and editing services like PaperBlazer, to ensure your texts adhere to the latest and relevant language norms.
“AP ends capitalization of ‘internet’ and ‘web'”. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/02/associated-presss-de-cap-internet-and-web.
“Internet vs. internet: why some linguists are capitalizing their letters”. Merriam Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/internet-vs-internet-why-some-linguists-are-capitalizing-their-letters.
“‘Internet’: AP says it will be lowercase from now on”. BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35913521.
“Who Decides Whether It’s Called COVID or Covid?”. Slate. https://slate.com/culture/2020/04/coronavirus-spelling-style-guide-covid.html