The internet – to capitalise or not to capitalise?

Nov 11, 2011

We have recently received a query about the spelling of the internet with a lower case i from someone who feels strongly that the capitalised form should be used. After all, they argue, if Facebook and Twitter are capitalised, so should the thing that makes Facebook and Twitter possible.

Firstly we should point out that the dictionary still allows the capitalised form of the word. It gives the lower case form as headword and the upper case form as variant because that is how it is at the moment, and the function of the dictionary is to record how it is, not to instruct or lead the way.

Facebook and Twitter are capitalised because they are trademarks. They are words that are owned by companies.

The basic function of the capital is to mark out a proper noun from the generic or common nouns. The use of the the in front of the word makes a non-count noun either by turning an adjective into a noun (the poor) or by turning a noun with a possible plural form into one that does not allow of a plural (the universe). Internet was originally used adjectivally and then turned into a noun.

OED records a use of the:

Before the name of a unique object or one so considered, or of which there is only one at a time; e.g. the sun, the earth, the sea, the sky, the air, the world, the universe, the Almighty, the Lord, the Messiah, the Saviour, the Gospel, the Bible, the abyss, the pit, the Devil, the Emperor, the Pope, the Kaiser, the Sultan, the Shah, etc.

The capitalisation is following a different line. Religion demands capitals but perhaps we would not want to put the internet on the same pedestal as God?

This article was originally posted on our Facebook page.

(Image courtesy of Pixabay)

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