Sun 22

The Great [Ii]nternet Debate

Writing Suddenly people are writing to me about the word “internet.” A few months ago I happened to mention that I don’t think internet should be spelled with a capital I. At the time, this passed without much comment, but now I’m getting besieged by IT professionals telling me how I am wrong, wrong, wrong.

Their arguments fall into three categories:

  1. Check a dictionary, idiot.
  2. An internet is any network of networks, so without capitalization it’s not clear which internet you’re talking about.
  3. There’s only one Internet, so it’s a proper noun and should be capitalized.

Arguments #2 and #3 are actually contradictory, so what I should really do is forward the e-mails from one side to the other and just let them go at it. Argument #1, though, is what annoyed me about capital-I Internet in the first place: this idea that there is a golden tome somewhere entitled THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE and if you follow it precisely you’re right and otherwise you’re wrong. Or, to use an example that may be more relevant here, that English is a language just like XML is a language, and if your usage isn’t in the spec, it’s a non-standard proprietary extension, doesn’t validate, and was probably invented by Microsoft.

To me, there’s no such thing as “correct” English. The purpose of communication is not to score the maximum number of grammar points; it’s to convey a thought from your brain into someone else’s. You do this by following common usage. That’s my beef with dictionaries: they still list “usward” (av. (Archaic) Moving toward us), but have to be dragged kicking and screaming to “blog.” Common usage beats dictionary definitions every time, and in common usage “internet” has lost its “I”.