An Apology

Capitalizing “Web” and “Internet.”

Christmas, 2004 / No. 13

In its very early days, in an uncharacteristic instance of grammatical forward-lookingness (or so it seemed at the time), Taddle Creek decided the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” (and, thus, also “Web”) would be lower-cased within its pages. The magazine founded this style rule on the belief that the Internet is a medium, just as television and radio are mediums, and so it should be lower-cased, just as television and radio are lower-cased. Taddle Creek even took the time to speak to an Oxford editor, following the publication of The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, in 1998. The editor admitted that, even though it had been decided to upper-case “Internet” in the then new dictionary, there was serious discussion being had in regard to whether it should be lower-cased in the future.

Given the high-handed attitude Taddle Creek has since adopted toward all matters grammatical, it was thought best to re-examine this rule upon discovering Oxford had decided to retain Internet’s capital I in the Canadian Oxford’s second edition, released this summer. Loath as the magazine is to admit it, it seems Taddle Creek has been in error.

To use the above-mentioned television analogy: The medium of television is made up of various networks around the world, each broadcasting its own specific programs. A television watcher in one part of the world does not necessarily have access to the same networks and programs as a television watcher in another. In the case of the Internet, however, the medium is also the messenger, and the messenger, in this case, is a single internetwork of computers. There may be smaller internets within the network, but there is only one grand, overall Internet, and in most cases, everyone can receive all of the same “programs,” no matter where they are. To use an even simpler analogy—one in keeping with that “information superhighway” phrase—there are many highways (lower case) but only one Trans-Canada Highway (upper case).

Some argue—wrongly—that since no one owns the Internet (and it could be argued that someone did once own the Internet, or that everyone owns the Internet, but that is unimportant) it should not be capitalized. What these people are trying to say is that no one should have a trademark on the Internet. Agreed (and Oxford apparently concurs: the new Canadian Oxford has ceased labeling the Internet “proprietary,” as it did in its first edition). But that is not the issue here. When there’s only one of something, it’s usually a proper noun. And proper noun means capitalization, plain and simple. Thus, “Internet” and “Web” will thenceforth be upper-cased in the pages of Taddle Creek. The magazine regrets its earlier indiscretion.

That said, Taddle Creek does have some other issues with the new Canadian Oxford, specifically its treatment of “Web site” and the like as one word. But that will have to wait until next issue.