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Internet Exceptionalism or Not– internet (small ‘i’) vs. Internet (Capital ‘I’): To Capitalize or Not… Who Decides?

It’s a grand debate: Whether or not to capitalize the word– ‘internet’ (small ‘i’) or ‘Internet’ (capital ‘I’): Capitalization, to some, suggests– ‘internet exceptionalism’… where exceptionalism is the perception that it’s something very special, exceptional (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way… According to Tim Wu; what is it about the Internet that makes it exceptional? Is the internet any different from say; computers, or smartphones, or electricity, or automobiles… The debate may appear trivial but there are many prominent– media, institutions, businesses… not to mention millions of private individuals who are in the habit of capitalizing or not capitalizing the word ‘internet’, and see no reason to change… 

This capitalization wars came when Associated Press (AP) style-guide announced that its stipulating lower-case for words, such as; internet, web, email… The AP is not the first style-guide to insist on lower-case for many technology-related words, many other media outlets prefer lower-case, as well… This tug-of-war has been going on for years with stylistic guidelines by many respected media sources, including; New York Times, Guardian, Economist, Wired News, Huffington Post, Chicago Manual of Style, Webster World College Dictionary… and many online and print media organizations…

In the article Should You Capitalize The Word Internet? by Katherine Connor Martin writes: Research shows that the capitalized form of the word ‘Internet’ is slightly more common, than non-capitalized ‘internet’ version… Over the past few years, the proportion of evidence for the two forms has remained relatively steady with Internet (capital ‘I’) having an edge, accounting for about 60%… It’s interesting to note that dictionaries are relatively inconsistent on this issue since they are lagging indicators of language change, hence waiting for usages to become settled before committing, and this particular change is still underway... Research also suggest there are geographic preferences in usage, e.g.; in UK, the preference for lower-case ‘i’ seems to be more dominant… whereas in the U.S., the capitalized form ‘I’ retains an edge… and preferred usage in other countries also varies…

According to Michael Straker; Internet is a contraction of  the word ‘inter-connected network’ and historically, the governing bodies that set internet standards have treated the word as a proper noun, capitalized… This was handy to differentiate various types of ‘internets’– worldwide set of ‘inter-connected networks’ from just any ‘inter-connected set of computer networks’… And so the argument was made that since the Internet is ‘exceptional’, it therefore deserves the preferential treatment bestowed upon proper nouns… But, in fact, earliest use of the word ‘internet’ was a lower-case ‘i’ cited in Oxford Dictionary in 1974.

In the article Why ‘Internet’ Should Not Be Stripped of Its Proper Noun Status by Amanda Edens writes: The Associated Press, one of the most widely followed authorities on writing style, has lower-cased the word ‘internet’ in their style-guide… According to the AP; hence forth it will use lower-case for words, such as; ‘internet’, ‘web’, ’email’… in all instances. This decision sparked much debate in the editorial and technology industries and beyond… But it’s not the first time that AP’s style-guide changes has caused ripples, and perhaps even confusion. Case in point: why in the world is there a hyphen in ‘e-commerce’, but not ’email’?

The word ‘Internet’ originated as the adjective ‘inter-netted’, basically meaning ‘inter-connected’ when describing a network of multiple computer networks… ‘Internet’ eventually replaced ‘inter-network’ as the standardized term, evolving from an adjective into a noun… There’s a distinction between ‘an internet’, which simply refers to one of those networks of networks, and ‘the Internet’, the global network of networks… So what exactly determines whether ‘the Internet’ should be a proper noun, deserving of capitalization? According to AP; let ‘usage dictate style’ and that suggests that there is no need for capitalization… On the other hand, Slate magazine makes a compelling argument the Internet is ‘exceptional’, hence it deserves capitalization.

In the article Should You Capitalize the Word Internet? by Susan C. Herring writes: This tug-of-war has been going on for years. Should the word ‘internet’ be spelled with a ‘i’ or ‘I’… There are legitimate reasons for capitalizing and compelling reasons for non-capitalizing. These competing forces are engaged in a back-and-forth tug of war, resulting in inconsistency in the spelling of the word… According to Bob Wyman; the ‘I’ should be capitalized to make clear the difference in meaning between the Internet (the global network that evolved out of ARPANET, the early Pentagon network), and any generic internet, or computer network connecting a number of smaller networks…

Indeed, the earliest citations from the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in the 1970s, referred to ‘internet’ in the generic sense and spelled it with lowercase ‘i’, whereas later OED examples refer to the global network, using a capital ‘I’. According to Chris; the debate– internet (‘i’) vs. Internet (‘I’)– is a difference without a distinction. Or is that a distinction without a difference? Either way: While it matters very much to some people, it’s all the same to others… Also, would you believe that in some circles a full caps version (INTERNET) once held sway?  While some media abandoned the big ‘I’ awhile back…

The choice is really up to the individual. However, you should always be consistent; if you adopt AP’s recommendation, then use it all the time. Don’t complicate things– and annoy your readers– by shifting back and forth… Linguistic choices have social consequences, even if the choice involves something minor as capitalization. Some experts suggest that the issue of capitalization is a political choice– geeks vs. non-geeks… For some capitalizing the word ‘Internet’ signifies sense of importance, better yet it suggests– Internet exceptionalism… for which many may, or may not agree with…