Sometimes it’s written with a capital, sometimes without, and there rarely seems to be any logic behind the choices. It seemed to be down to taste, more than anything. How on earth can modern readers expect to get a grasp on the evolving rules of language if there isn’t any consistency?

Happily sub-editing the International Press Institute’s World Review, I spotted it again and decided it was time to get a definitive answer to the internet/Internet conundrum. Here’s what Reuters has to say about it:

Internet

A global data communications system comprising hardware and software that connects computers. The World Wide Web consists of content accessed using the Internet and is not synonymous with it. It is a collection of documents and other resources linked by hyperlinks, or URLs. The Internet also carries, for example, email and downloadable software.
Capitalise as a noun, lower case as an adjective e.g. internet banking, internet cafe.

My brand-spanking-new Shorter OED lists ‘internet’ initally without a capital with “now usual: Internet” written in brackets. Why? Why is it now usual?   I quite like the idea of distinguishing between the noun and the adjective, but surely there are more than enough people who don’t have a clue which is which and will merely confuse their readers.

For me, though, the question is: should it be a proper noun? Back in the day, the internet wasn’t considered a proper noun, so wasn’t capitalised. Just as we didn’t capitalise telegram, book, television, telephone, discussion, – which serve/d a similar purposes as the internet. What makes the internet any different (in grammatical terms) to any other media, any other common noun? By capitalising we are giving it massive importance – akin to Mum, Dad, Big Ben and London. Does it deserve to have this standing? Is it more important than books or telephones, newspapers or words?

What do you think? Should it be universally spelled with a lower case ‘i’, or should we plug on with a capital?

UPDATE (4th April 2011): reading The Sunday Times this morning, I noticed it used ‘internet’ – no capital. I did a leap of joy, quietly!

Proofreader, copy-writer and copy-editor

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