Capitalization of Internet

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Publishers have different conventions regarding the capitalization of Internet versus internet, when referring to the Internet, as distinct from generic internets, or internetworks.

Internet and internet were originally coined as a shorthand for internetwork, in the first TCP specification, RFC 675, written by Vint Cerf, Yogen Dalal, and Carl Sunshine in 1974.[1] Since the widespread deployment of the Internet protocol suite in the 1980s, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the W3C, and others have consistently spelled the name of the worldwide network, the Internet, with an initial capital letter and treated it as a proper noun in the English language. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the global network is usually “the internet”, but most of the American historical sources it cites use the capitalized form.[2] Before the transformation of the ARPANET into the modern Internet, the term internet in its lower case spelling was a common short form of the term internetwork, and this spelling and use may still be found in discussions of networking.

The spelling “internet” has become commonly used, as the word virtually always refers to the global network; the generic sense of the word has become rare.

In some of the first printed mentions of the Internet, like many other US government projects of the period, it was referred to in all caps as INTERNET, despite not being an acronym.[3]

The Internet versus generic internets[edit]

The Internet standards community historically differentiated between the Internet and an internet (or internetwork), treating the former as a proper noun with a capital letter, and the latter as a common noun with lower-case first letter. An internet is any internetwork or set of inter-connected Internet Protocol (IP) networks. The distinction is evident in Request for Comments documents from the early 1980s, when the transition from the ARPANET to the Internet was in progress, although it was not applied with complete uniformity.[4][5]

Another example from that period is IBM’s TCP/IP Tutorial and Technical Overview (ISBN 0-7384-2165-0) from 1989, which stated that:

The words internetwork and internet is [sic] simply a contraction of the phrase interconnected network. However, when written with a capital “I,” the Internet refers to the worldwide set of interconnected networks. Hence, the Internet is an internet, but the reverse does not apply. The Internet is sometimes called the connected internet.

In the Request for Comments documents that define the evolving Internet Protocol standards, the term was introduced as a noun adjunct, apparently a shortening of “internetworking”[6] and is mostly used in this way.

As the impetus behind IP grew, it became more common to regard the results of internetworking as entities of their own, and internet became a noun, used both in a generic sense (any collection of computer networks connected through internetworking) and in a specific sense (the collection of computer networks that internetworked with ARPANET, and later NSFNET, using the IP standards, and that grew into the connectivity service we know today).

In its generic sense, internet is a common noun, a synonym for internetwork; therefore, it has a plural form (first appearing in the RFC series RFC 870, RFC 871 and RFC 872) and is not capitalized.

In a 1991 court case, Judge Jon O. Newman used it as a mass noun: “Morris released the worm into INTERNET, which is a group of national networks that connect university, governmental, and military computers around the country.”[3]

Argument for common noun usage[edit]

In 2002, a New York Times column said that Internet has been changing from a proper noun to a generic term.[7] Words for new technologies, such as phonograph in the 19th century, are sometimes capitalized at first, later becoming uncapitalized.[7] In 1999, another column said that Internet might, like some other commonly used proper nouns, lose its capital letter.[8]

Capitalization of the word as an adjective also varies. Some guides specify that the word should be capitalized as a noun but not capitalized as an adjective, e.g., “internet resources”.[9]

Argument for proper noun usage[edit]

Because there is only one global Internet, when one speaks about the Internet itself, it should be capitalized as a proper name.[citation needed]

(Notice that this is similar like to say: “There is only one ‘Air’ on the planet Earth, so it should be capitalized.” Air, like the internet, is too complex to be treated like this.)

Usage examples[edit]

Examples of media publications and news outlets that capitalize the term include Time, the United States Government Printing Office,[10] and The Times of India. In addition, many peer-reviewed journals and professional publications such as Communications of the ACM capitalize “Internet”, and this style guideline is also specified by the American Psychological Association in its electronic media spelling guide. The Modern Language Association’s MLA Handbook does not specifically mention capitalization of Internet, but its consistent practice is to capitalize it.[11]

A few of the publications that do not capitalize internet are The Economist, the Financial Times, The Times of London, The Guardian, The Observer,[12] the BBC,[13] and The Sydney Morning Herald. Wired News, an American news source, adopted the lower-case spelling in 2004.[14] Media companies like BuzzFeed and Vox Media avoid capitalizing the “internet” similarly.[15] Around April 2010, CNN shifted its house style to adopt the lowercase spelling. The Associated Press announced that the 2016 AP Stylebook will no longer capitalize “internet”.[16] The New York Times announced their decision in May 2016 to decapitalize all instances of “internet” for reasons similar to AP’s.[17] As Internet connectivity has expanded, it has started to be seen as a service similar to television, radio, and telephone, and the word has come to be used in this way (e.g. “I have the internet at home” and “I found it on the internet”).

Regional differences[edit]

According to Oxford Dictionaries Online, as of April 2016 the spelling Internet remains more usual in the US, while internet has become predominant in the UK.[15]


  1. ^ Vint Cerf, Yogen Dalal, Carl Sunshine (December 1974), RFC 675 (Specification of Internet Transmission Control Program)
  2. ^ "internet". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ a b Post, David. "The History of the Internet, Typography Division, Cont'd". Volokh Conspiracy. Retrieved 16 August 2015.
  4. ^ RFC 871 (1982) "The 'network' composed of the concatenation of such subnets is sometimes called 'a catenet,' though more often—and less picturesquely—merely 'an internet.'"
  5. ^ RFC 872 (1982) "[TCP's] next most significant property is that it is designed to operate in a 'catenet' (also known as the, or an, 'internet')"
  6. ^ The form first occurring in the RFC series is "internetworking protocol", RFC 604: "Four of the reserved link numbers are hereby assigned for experimental use in the testing of an internetworking protocol." The first use of "internet" is in RFC 675, in the form "internet packet".
  7. ^ a b Schwartz, John (29 December 2002). "Who Owns the Internet? You and i Do". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 17 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009. Allan M. Siegal, a co-author of The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and an assistant managing editor at the newspaper, said that 'there is some virtue in the theory' that Internet is becoming a generic term, 'and it would not be surprising to see the lowercase usage eclipse the uppercase within a few years.'
  8. ^ Wilbers, Stephen (13 September 1999). "Errors put a wall between you and your readers". Orange County Register. Santa Ana, California. p. c.20. If you like being ahead of the game, you might prefer to spell internet and web as internet and web, but according to standard usage they should be capitalized. Keep in mind, however, that commonly used proper nouns sometimes lose their capital letters over time and that Internet and Web may someday go the way of the french fry.
  9. ^ E.g. "MIT Libraries House Style". MIT Libraries Staff Web. 14 August 2008. Archived from the original on 26 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009.
  10. ^ "U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual". United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved 24 April 2014. Internet, Intranet
  11. ^ MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (Seventh ed.). New York: Modern Language Association of America. 2009. ISBN 9781603290241.
  12. ^ "Guardian and Observer style guide". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 19 April 2008. internet, net, web, world wide web. See websites.
  13. ^ "The BBC News Styleguide" (PDF). p. 33. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 June 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2014. Viewers and listeners complain most loudly when they hear the wrong word used, and now scripts are widely available on the internet, misspellings, too, are public.
  14. ^ Long, Tony (16 August 2004). "It's Just the 'internet' Now". Wired. Archived from the original on 29 April 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009. ... what the internet is: another medium for delivering and receiving information.
  15. ^ a b "Should you capitalize the word Internet?". Oxford Dictionaries Online. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2016.
  16. ^ "AP Style alert: Don't capitalize internet and web anymore". The Poynter Institute. Retrieved 3 April 2016. The changes reflect a growing trend toward lowercasing both words, which have become generic terms
  17. ^ Bromwich, Jonah (24 May 2016). "Bulletin! The 'Internet' Is About to Get Smaller". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 May 2016.

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