Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Little 'i', big 'W'

And you thought from that overline I was going to talk about George W?
No, something much more polarizing -- capitalizing Internet, Net, Web (and many of its progeny).

The debate rages on, with Wired News' decision outlined by copy chief Tony Long to lowercase all of the above. Amy Gaharan followed with her decision to do the same in her widely read Contentious blog.

I do think it's time to lowercase "internet." The thing is so ubiquitous that it has lost the distinguished status that calls for capitalization. But we part company on Web. Gaharan asserts "there is no sound grammatical reason to capitalize 'web,' just like there is no sound grammatical reason to capitalize 'radio' or 'newspaper.' " But television and newspaper aren't shortened forms of a term that both Gaharan and Long say will stay upcased when spelled out as World Wide Web. Two points here:
  • If you're going to give the main term the uppercase treatment, it makes perfect sense to cap the shorter form. There are plenty of examples. Think of sports teams. It's the New York Metropolitans, the New York Knickerbockers. We shorten to the Mets and the Knicks.
  • So, the underlying question becomes whether there is logic in according the World Wide Web special name status. Gahran and Long have answered that by default. But let's consider further Gaharan's argument that both internet and web "refer to general concepts, not specific entities. ... Similarly, in the future, there may be another incarnation of the web, somehow technologically distinct and separate from the web we use today. Just because something happens to be one-of-a-kind at the moment does not make its general description a proper noun." I don't buy the pie-in-the-sky argument. When another "web" appears, then the argument may float. Until that condition is met, however, it is just as proper to capitalize Web as it is to capitalize World Wide Web.
But boy, it sure is fun to argue this every six months, isn't it?


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