Cut to the case: internet or Internet?

October 6, 2016

News & Trends

By Anu Ramani

Anu Ramani is a specialist in international B2B communications.

More articles from Anu Ramani

Technology terms such as ‘internet’ and ‘cloud’ are widely used but every business embarking on content marketing faces the choice of capitalisation. Here are some pointers.

While 54% of all usage of the word ‘internet’ uses the capital ‘I’, the latest Associated Press stylebook, as well as  many established mainstream outlets (including the Economist, Guardian, Financial Times, and the BBC) as well as tech-focused outlets (like Buzzfeed, Wired, and Vox) have declared themselves in favour of internet. The Oxford dictionary still capitalises the word, along with some other conservative media outlets.

It is interesting to note that in its first appearances, ‘internet’ was written all in lowercase. However, grammarians got involved (shudder). They said the internet was a place, and the word was a name made up to describe this particular place, as opposed to all the other computer networks that could exist. In other words, ‘internet’ was deemed to be a proper noun, and hence it needed a capital letter.

‘Cloud’ is another tricky one. There is no clear definition of ‘cloud’, but it is neither a brand name nor a place — it is not a proper noun but rather a generic one. “The cloud” is a generic term for a concept — much like we write “the sky”, rather than considering “the Sky” to be a place. While it would not be wrong to use a capital letter, to signal to readers that this is a specific cloud we’re talking about and not the cumulonimbus type – a capital is not necessary. And a quick trawl of the internet shows that the uppercase doesn’t seem to be any more commonly used than the lowercase version.

My recommendation is to go for lower case. To use ‘internet’ denotes an easy familiarity with the word, and an assumption that it is a part of life and does not require a self-conscious uppercase treatment. To me, the capital letter in this specific context is like the wiggly movement we make in the air to indicate quotation marks when we are speaking.

However tech vocabulary grows every week, whether the jargon-police approves or not, and the uppercase-lowercase debate begins all over again. Whatever a company chooses, whether uppercase or lowercase: the single rule of thumb is ‘be wrong, but be consistently wrong’. In other words: just pick one, and stick with it.

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