To capitalize or not to capitalize. . .

Breaking news! Read all about it—The Associated Press, one of the most widely followed authorities on written style, has lowercased the word “internet” in their 2016 style guide.

Starting today, AP uses lowercase internet and web in all instances. #APStyleChat

The decision has sparked much debate in the editorial and technology industries and beyond, but this isn’t the first time that an AP Stylebook change has caused some ripples . . . and perhaps even confusion. Case in point: why in the world is there a hyphen in “e-commerce” but not “email”?

The Evolution of the Term

The word originated as the adjective “internetted,” basically meaning “interconnected” when describing a network of multiple computer networks. “Internet” eventually replaced “internetwork” as the standardized term, evolving from an adjective into a noun.

The Importance of the Word “The”

There’s a distinction here between “an internet,” which simply refers to one of those networks of networks, and “the Internet,” the global network of networks. While “internet” is most commonly used in the context of the latter, many IT professionals and network engineers would be happy to correct you on the important difference a single article makes.

The Argument for Lowercasing

“The Internet” has been a proper noun for quite some time, but due to its prevalence in our daily lives, does it really need to be a proper noun anymore? Many argue that it shouldn’t; in casual use, it most often refers to the global network, and regular people tend not to talk about lesser internets. This means that we should let go of the practice of moving our pinky to the Shift key while typing.

The Reasons It Should Stay Capitalized

Basically, the above argument is silly when you phrase it in a different way: people shouldn’t capitalize things if they’re used a lot. However, we still capitalize “Mom” despite seeing her every day. The capitalization for many moms or even “my mom” is different from “Hey, Mom!” because in the last case “Mom” is a proper noun—the way we make the distinction between an internet and the Internet (even if the latter is used more).

The Internet as a Geo Locale

The first place to look for capitalization conventions should perhaps be in how we treat important places, locations, and landmarks. Unconventionally, the Internet is a sorta kinda place, and many places get capitalized: Paris, the Grand Canyon, Florida, the Empire State Building. “The desert” and “the universe” are not capitalized despite their geographical nature, the reason harking back to the original proper noun vs. common noun debate.

The Internet as a Unique Entity

So what exactly determines whether “the Internet” should remain a proper noun, deserving of capitalization? AP lets “usage dictate style,” but is that the common sense approach? Slate makes the most compelling argument—the Internet is a completely new, unique, and disruptive thing in our lives. If that’s not enough, I don’t know what is.

What are your thoughts: Internet or internet?

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Amanda Edens is an editor and content marketer with a wide range of talents from management to design. Check out her blog at or follow her on twitter @askyoureditor

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