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There is no 'I' in internet

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.

(Photo: Jacom Stephens)

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.