Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technology: It Makes Life More Convenient, Unless You're a Copy Editor

TOSC friend Mark M. writes:

Why does the L.A. Weekly cap the word "Internet"? And also, if memory serves me, "Web site" and "Web"? Do we consider technology so God-like?
Let me answer the last question first: Yes. The Other Style Council believes that technology is well on its way to solving all the world's problems, including: Our pesky inability to travel backward and forward through time, my costly knack for not returning my library books on time, and women's maddening refusal to speak to me.

But we have to leave those issues up to the cabal of God-like super scientists who secretly rule planet Earth. The Other Style Council will be content to just answer your style questions. Therefore:

Mark, there's some disagreement among the copy-editing ranks about this. "Internet," "Web" and "Web site" were capped when they first came on the scene because they were so singular, so life changing, that they seemed to demand the initial caps. I mean, the phenomenon that gave us has to be uppercase, right?

But now that we're a decade or so out from Bob Dole inventing the Internet (yeah, everyone thinks it was Gore, but it was actually the distinguished senator from Kansas), these terms have settled right down into the lexicon so comfortably that more and more copy folks are wondering if we shouldn't lowercase them. There's a pretty valid argument to be made that "Internet" etc. aren't proper nouns. They're not copyrighted phrases, and there's only one Internet. It's not like there's different proprietary worldwide computer networks that require distinguishing proper designations.

I, though, continually want to keep capping "Internet" etc. This is largely because I'm so comfortable with those phrases being uppercase that they reside in that part of my mind that allows me to expend virtually no brain power while reading them during the editing process: I see "internet," cap it and move on.

But the Internet also hits me as something more than just a big damn collection of wires. I buy into all this hokum about the Internet being a place, a community. Like Heaven, but with pitch-by-pitch updates of Tigers games. So I say we keep it capped.


Kate, we haven't forgotten your question about "momentarily." It's just that that query is going to take some research, and I'm getting ready to go to Michigan for New Year's, and, and ...


Anonymous Pat said...


I like your reasoning. But I think this might be a case in which descriptive rather than prescriptive linguistics should, and inevitably will, win the day. If most people including, notably, a huge portion of Internet users fail to capitalize, it makes the AP rules seem a bit curmudgeonly and out of touch.

It wouldn't be the first time accepted newspaper style turned out to be comically behind the times. The AP hyphenated "teenager" until a couple of years ago, after all.

With regard to "web," "internet" and "website" (one word, lowercase), the people have spoken.

Who are we to argue?

Even if the people making the call on this style rule are just a bunch of "teen-agers on the Web."

-- PDM
"Linguist of the People"

5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir, that is dangerous crazy talk.

If we were allow the people to dictate style, then we'd be using apostrophes for plurals, writing "towards" instead of "toward," and inserting quote marks to indicate emphasis.

The people are flawed. That's why they elect us as their representatives in the Worldwide Style Congress. We meet, deliberate, and set and enforce the rules the people have neither the time nor inclination to consider.

We're here to protect the people from their own free will.

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Pat said...

Yeah, dude. Despite your comic tone, I know and understand that argument. I even believe in it to some degree.

In this case, though, we set the rules a long time ago, and they don't seem to be working today. They have not become standard.

I'm not saying there shouldn't be rules; you need them for consistency -- and so you can feel superior when people break them. I'm just saying it's time these rules (Web, Web site, Internet) were changed to fit their overwhelmingly more-common usage.

The AP is slow to do this, with good reason. But it's time.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat, my boy, time will likely prove you right. I'm only a half-step quicker than AP.

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