Luke Taylor

Grammar Grater®

with Luke Taylor

Episode 85: A Tangled Web

This week's episode was inspired by a question from Chris, a listener in Lakeville, Minnesota. Chris writes:
"There seems to be some confusion, at least from people I talk with online, as to the proper way to write "Internet" (or "internet") and the "Web" (or the "web"). Could you address these concerns of mine … which are not in any way keeping me up at night?"

Research revealed a variety of opinion on this topic.

The AP Stylebook insists the words Internet and World Wide Web must be capitalized as proper nouns. Often the case against capitalization is based on the logic that the Internet is just a medium over which information is passed: We don't listen to Radio; we don't watch Television. But the AP Stylebook is joined by the UPI Stylebook and Guide to Newswriting in the belief that Internet, World Wide Web, Web and Web site must be written as such. The New York Times maintains the same rules.

Meanwhile, The Economist, The Guardian and the BBC News Styleguide all insist on lowercase for internet, world wide web, web—and even that the word website appears not only as lowercase, but as a compound word.

It might be easy to misconstrue this as a transatlantic divide, but San Francisco-based Wired magazine boldly declared the words should be lowercase in an August 16, 2004, article called, "It's just the 'internet' now." Wired News' copy chief Tony Long wrote, "there is no earthly reason to capitalize any of these words. Actually, there never was."

Long insisted the words aren't trademarks, just names. He said the change to lowercase "was necessary to put into perspective what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information. This should not be interpreted as some kind of symbolic demotion. Think of it more as a stylistic reality check."

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a single, easy answer to this. The best course of action may simply be to learn and to use the agreed style—uppercase or lowercase—for where you work, or if you're a student, for your school or college. Perhaps someday there will be a universal standard for this, but that day hasn't dawned yet.

What do you think about this issue? Should words like Internet and Web be capitalized—or not? Let us know at grammargrater.gather.com or by visiting our page on Facebook.

Sources: The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law; UPI Stylebook and Guide to Newswriting; The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage : The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World's Most Authoritative Newspaper; and from the online resources BBC News Styleguide, the Economist Style Guide and The Guardian Style Guide; plus Wired magazine.

Music from this episode: "Computer Love" by Zapp and Roger and "Computer Cowboy (AKA Skycrusher)" by Neil Young.

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