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How To Spell ‘Internet’

Get ready to change your autocorrect rules. The Associated Press announced Saturday that the next edition of its stylebook will endorse “internet” over “Internet” and “web” over “Web.”

The change is the latest in a long-running debate over whether “the internet” is a proper noun — a singular piece of technology like the Hyperloop — or a fact of life — no different (and thus no more likely to be capitalized) than a television or a hair roller. AP Standards Editor Thomas Kent told Poynter, a website about the media, via email that “the changes reflect a growing trend toward lowercasing both words, which have become generic terms.”

The changes go into effect June 1, but, according to Google Books’ Ngram Viewer, which searches through a large collection of books published in English, we passed peak “Internet” and “Web” sometime around 2002.1

libresco.INTERNET.0404

Check back in a few years, and things may look very different. AP style is a cultural bellwether for writer-types — it’s the dominant style guide in American journalism. Now the lowercased floodgates are open. Although the official changeover doesn’t happen for nearly two months, FiveThirtyEight, an internet-native site that publishes on the web, switched to “internet” today.

Footnotes

  1. Mindful of the kind of character recognition error that led to xkcd’s thinking that the 11th was the least likely date to appear in books (it turns out that the “11” was being misread by Google’s algorithm as an “n”), I also checked “lnternet” (with a lowercase-L as its first letter) and “1ternet” in Google Ngram. But neither had enough hits to distort the overall trend.

Leah Libresco is a former news writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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