A light moan greeted the announcement by the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook at the American Copy Editors society conference last week that they have decided to lowercase internet.
It might have been a stronger response, but they had stolen their own thunder by setting the tweeted announcement to East Coast time, so that it went out well before their session at ACES. Nevertheless, some people have been disturbed, as some were previously when the editors dropped the pointless over/more than distinction.
Bill Walsh, quoted in The Washington Post, is upholding capitalization: “The word could just as easily have entered the language as a common noun, like ‘electricity,’ but it didn’t. It was a name for the network, not just a newly coined word for the network, and to me it looks sloppy — at least for now — to ignore that precedent just because people don’t use the shift key much anymore.”
Suggesting that people are too lazy to use the shift key, however, overlooks that a number of writers and publications have been complaining for years that the capitalization looks fussy and dated. Jonathon Owen, tweeting as @ArrantPedantry, remarked, " ‘If we stop capping “Internet,” old articles will look dated!’ Dude, it makes CURRENT articles look dated.”
Capitalization is a typographical convention rather than a rule of grammar. In the eighteenth century it was conventional to capitalize all nouns, and some verbs or adjectives—in fact, to capitalize anything you cared to emphasize. The tendency in American English over the past century and more has been to reduce capitalization to a minimum. Oh, people like to hype their job titles—Chief Assistant to the Assistant Chief—but publications have been following a clear trend.
For my part, though I understand the arguments on both sides of the partisan divide over capitalizing internet, I can’t generate much interest in it. It’s just a convention, and every reader knows what you mean whether you write internet or Internet. More and more, the arguments over the matter begin to sound like those sixteenth-century disputes over the Real Presence in the Eucharist. (We may still care about that, but we no longer burn people over it.)
I’ll display some excitement if the Associated Press Stylebook should ever get around to discarding some of the hoary bric-a-brac they treasure as if it were Sevres porcelain.