Should you capitalise the I in ‘internet’? Well, it’s up to you.

Internet access sign

Believe it or not, we at broadbandchoices are big fans of the internet. Or should that be Internet? Well, according to the AP Stylebook, as of June we should say 'internet', with a lower-case i.

Predictably, there are a lot of opinions on this new guideline and comment sections are getting nice and rowdy. The question is, why are so many people so insistent on keeping that capital letter?

I hate to be one of those people who argues about grammar on the internet, but you know what, I have a BA in English which is just going to gather dust if I don't. So off we go.

AP Stylebook

The argument for keeping the capitalisation is simple. The Internet, prescriptivists and techies say, is distinctly different from a more general internet: it's a proper noun, the name of a specific internetwork called the Internet, and should thus have a capital letter. We keep the capital for clarification, and to show that we're talking about the properly-named Internet.

In the same vein, in America the Constitution is different from any old constitution, the Earth is a planet rather than the earth where you might plant a tree, and so on.

That may be so, but we don't capitalise hoover any more, even though that used to be a proper noun. And we don't capitalise universe, even though we're betting on there only being one of those.

This is what happens in language - proper nouns slip into common usage and turn into regular old nouns. Heck, it's already happened with Web site. The new AP guide now also decrees that the word web has a lower-case w in all instances, but in 2010 it already changed its standard spelling of Web site to website.

It's something we have to accept (just like we may have to accept that emoji are words). If we resisted every time this particular adjustment happened, we'd still be capitalising Phonograph and LASER and Heroin and Quixotic and Fuchsia and Boycott and Ping Pong and Silhouette and Biro and eventually our shift-key-pushing fingers would get very sore.

Hands typing on a keyboard

Katherine Connor Martin - head of US English Dictionaries at Oxford University Press - also points out that we already differentiate between a general internet and the specific internet with cat videos on it. I did it in that sentence, in fact. For one term we say an internet; for the other, the internet. It's already clear what we mean, and there's really no need to add in a capital letter just to push the point.

Language is fluid. It changes as we use it. That fluidity is the reason why the word silly is no longer synonymous with 'holy', and why we order a sandwich rather than a 'meal of meat and bread in the manner consumed by John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich'. In this case, the fluidity of the way we write means more of us write internet in all lower-case.

But let's get to the real issue here. It doesn't matter whether we hold a particular grammar rule holy or not. What does matter is that writing Internet with a capital letter is a giveaway that you're either at the latter end of middle age, or tapping a Yahoo Mail message out with two index fingers and asking what this mozzarella filofax thing is. Or both. The spelling goes hand in hand with a capitalised and hyphenated E-mail or Face Book with a space.

Senior surfer

The fact is, there's no reason to argue for the capital I staying other than because there is a rule that says so. There's no real reason outside of 'this is the rule' - there are enough markers to aid clarity of language in how we use this word. So why cling to it so tightly?

Grammar rules exist to aid communication, which is the main goal of written language, and which overrides any rules we may lay down. That's why we hoover and send emails, because it's easier to write and everyone knows what you mean by it.

And by the way, that's why we don't have universal rules about our language - we only have guides. You get to pick and choose which grammar works for you and your readers. The Associated Press thinks that for journalism in the USA, a lower-case 'internet' better suits the subject matter and audience. It's a guideline, for a specific kind of communication, from a source that is "reflecting usage they see out there".

So if you prefer to capitalise Internet, go ahead - no one's stopping you. You just need to be happy to come across as a fusty old fuddy-duddy in a tweed jacket who isn't sure what Twitter is.

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