In the summer, the “Internet” will become the “internet,” at least according to the Associated Press’s widely-followed stylebook. The change was announced over the weekend at the American Copy Editors Society’s annual meeting, immediately setting off a round of arguments about whether “internet” with a lowercase “i” is a good or a bad thing.
For some, “internet” represents a long-overdue acknowledgement that the Internet, as a term, has outgrown its capitalization. For others, it’s just wrong: The Internet – the one you are almost certainly using right now to read this article – refers to a specific network of smaller networks, and should keep the capital “I” that distinguishes it from any other plain old “internet” of connected computer networks.
There are few moderate opinions, at least on the Internet, about the matter. “What a shame,” wrote Seth Maxon in Slate. The New Republic, meanwhile, declared “finally.” The replies to the AP Stylebook’s tweet about the upcoming change reveal similar divisions. “You change that ‘I’ in the Internet to lowercase and you’re entering a world of pain,” one frustrated follower wrote. Another responded, “Dreams DO come true.”
We asked Bill Walsh, the copy editor who oversees The Washington Post’s stylebook, about AP’s change. He argues that the capital “I” should stay, and at The Post, it will. “It’s possible we’ll reconsider down the road,” Walsh wrote in an email, “but for now Washington Post style will retain capitalization for “Internet.”
“The word could just as easily have entered the language as a common noun, like ‘electricity,’ but it didn’t,” Walsh said. “It was a name for the network, not just a newly coined word for the network, and to me it looks sloppy – at least for now – to ignore that precedent just because people don’t use the shift key much anymore.”
In the case of “internet,” Team lowercase “i” is arguing that the precedent doesn’t matter anymore. The “Internet” and the “Web” have “become generic terms,” the AP’s Standards Editor Thomas Kent said in an email to Poynter. The stylebook will also switch to a lowercase “w” in all instances of Web, once the changes take effect on June 1. Those changes “reflect a growing trend toward lowercasing both words.”
The Post has been more conservative than the AP on a couple of other changes that reflect the usage of technical words. For instance, the Associated Press dropped the hyphen in “email” in 2011 – a change that, to Internet-based publications like Mashable, felt overdue at the time. The Washington Post made the same change years later, in December 2015.
No matter how you feel about Internet vs. internet, it’s clear that the uppercase version of the word is losing its dominance against the upstart lowercase spelling. The linguist Susan Herring looked at “Internet” late last year for Wired. Here’s what she had to say on the evidence of “internet’s” rise:
“‘Internet’ was twice as frequent as ‘internet’ between 2000 and 2012, according to the Oxford English Corpus (a huge database that includes everything from academic papers to Internet comment sections), yet ‘Internet’ has outpaced ‘internet’ by only a slim margin since 2012; by late 2015, that margin may have disappeared.”
“The lower-case version will eventually win the day,” she argued, “driven by age-old principles of language change.” But “eventually” is pretty key, here, because “Internet” has stuck around for a lot longer than some lowercase proponents had hoped. Wired itself was one of the first major publications to declare that it was done with the “Internet” and was ready for the “internet” in 2004. But “Internet” later returned to Wired, at least temporarily, when Conde Nast bought the magazine and reverted it to its style.