There is no ‘I’ in internet

30 Aug

There was an aside that I wanted to go on in my latest mega-post on Apple, but I decided against it because that particular entry was already way too long. I mentioned that the internet is like heaven in that it doesn’t really exist, as far as science knows. It actually wasn’t a theological tangent I was thinking of, but rather a grammatical one.

I’ve had the same debate with editors everywhere I’ve worked: why is “Internet” capitalized? No one has been able to properly answer that question.

It’s possible the word was originally capitalized because it came from the Internet Protocol standards published by DARPA in the 1970s. Still, that’s ancient history and capitalizing “internet” defies grammatical conventions.

The basic rule is that all proper nouns – a word that represents a unique entity, whether it is a person, place or thing – are capitalized regardless of where they are used in a sentence (full rules on capitalization can be found here). The internet, however, is not a person, place or thing, nor is it really an entity. Depending on your definition, the internet is either a series of tubes or, more correctly, it is a network of connected computers that does not exist in any one place. It’s also not a proper thing.

I’ve often used the heaven example in arguments. It’s also not a real place – as far as we know – nor is it a real thing that can be touched. As a result, no one outside of religious publishers capitalizes the word “heaven.”

Although I’ve succeeded in convincing newspaper editors and style gurus that it’s similarly incorrect to capitalize “internet,” no one I’ve ever worked for has gone ahead and changed the rules on how the word is written. The killer has been the why: in each case, the decision to stick with the capital “I” was made either because that’s how it had always been done, or because everybody else was doing it.

Fortunately, some news organizations – mostly outside North America – are coming to their senses. According to Wikipedia, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Sydney Morning Herald are among the outlets that have recently adopted the lower-case spelling, while Wired magazine here in North America was one of the first.

I’ll keep fighting my lower “i” war in the hopes that some day, we too will become enlightened like our international brothers. You can enjoy the lower-case internet on my blog’s home page, but if it’s the upper case Internet you’re looking for, you can ironically see that in the Macleans version.


Posted by on August 30, 2011 in internet


11 responses to “There is no ‘I’ in internet

  1. Oliver Conner (@oliconner)

    August 30, 2011 at 9:15 am

    What about the argument that, as there is definitely only one internet, it has to be a proper noun?

    • Chris

      August 30, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Capitalizing it is giving it a static permanence and a reverence in the same way we say “God bless the King”.

      Remember, it is a network of interconnected devices controlled by individual people, not some kind of self aware monster.

      • Oliver Conner (@oliconner)

        August 30, 2011 at 9:34 am

        So when it does become a self aware monster and selfishly augments our humanity to suit its own ends, we can return to the capital?

  2. Chris

    August 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

    BRAVO! It was about time someone denounced this insanity and told the world the internet is a network of interconnected websites and that to ‘connect to the Internet’ is linguistic madness.

    I am constantly battling all my spell correctors to accept the correct spelling of ‘internet’ with a small ‘i’ instead of ‘Internet’ so many of them force upon us, and I can tell you the problem is even worse in French, where we are being told to say “branchez-vous à Internet” as if it was some kind of god.

  3. Tom

    August 30, 2011 at 10:58 am

    I prefer Internet capitalized. We talk about “the Internet”, not “an internet.” There is no other global internet with the same depth and breadth as the Internet. We usually refer to other networks as just that, “networks”, or possibly as “intranets.”

    Funny thing is, if you say internet and I say Internet, I bet we both know what the other is talking about.

    Now, about this InterCaps thing, …

    • Simon Cohen

      August 30, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      I agree Tom. The best argument for capitalization is that the Internet, while vast and made up of billions of devices and connections, is nonetheless one network. When I pay my ISP’s monthly bill, what am I paying for? For access to the Internet. Here’s another analogy which hopefully works: galaxies contain billions of stars. We don’t capitalize “galaxy” because there are many of them. But we capitalize The Milky Way because that’s the name we gave our specific galaxy. Researchers created the Internet 2 as a separate network from the Internet. So if they were able to see it as an entity unto itself, shouldn’t we?

    • Chris

      August 30, 2011 at 11:02 pm

      I disagree, We talk about the world, not the World. Therefore, I get connected to the internet, not the Internet, and certainly not The Internet 😉

  4. Russell McOrmond

    August 30, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    “As a result, no one outside of religious publishers capitalizes the word “heaven.””

    I think this answered your question on why people still capitalize “Internet”, since this is the way that the “Internet Gods” wrote it. Once we get past the mysticism (and the level of BS) around the internet reduces, the problem may go away.

    Then again, my spell checker complains that I’m typing “internet” and not “Internet”. More silliness…

  5. Marc Venot

    August 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    wiktionary: # Any set of computer networks that communicate using the Internet Protocol. (An intranet.)
    # The Internet, the largest global internet.
    # An internet connection, internet connectivity, access to the internet.

    In 2001: A Space Odyssey there is HAL 9000.
    It seems that ubiquitous data network should have a name (not cloud) preferably taken from the litterature for example “Alice in Wonderland”.

  6. sparkyd

    August 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Love this post. I have never understood why internet (oh it felt so good to type that) is always capitalized. Never really considered why or the grammar behind it, I just never thought it made sense intuitively. Looking forward to the day common sense prevails…

  7. Chris

    August 30, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Oliver Conner (@oliconner) :
    So when it does become a self aware monster and selfishly augments our humanity to suit its own ends, we can return to the capital?

    LOL… 😀

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