Net words: 1 word, 2 words, caps or not?

Internet routing maps (CC SA)

Internet routing maps (CC SA)

We have a new lexicon naming all things Web, or more precisely, Internet.* You know that surfing is roaming the Web and that lurking is what people do in chat rooms. An insulting comment is a flame. Everybody knows what upload and download mean.

We do stealth Egosurfing, and spam is a perfect word for what we love to hate. Webopedia adds terms daily to its almost 10,000-entry glossary of computing terms, and it’s fairly conservative in doing so. For instance, the term private cloud was added to the glossary in June 2013.

The question in editorial style is what to do with these words, usually in terms of combinations or capitalizations.

The key is to pay attention to how these words are used and how their use changes if you want your technical copy to be credible and authoritative. Consistency must be combined with flexibility in the face of change. There is no One True Church of editorial style.

At the same time, there is no better way to become a “me too” writer and company than by latching on to every buzzword that pretends to be a new concept or activity. Examine the facts, does the new word really represent something new, or is it just old wine in a new bottle? Telling the difference between a buzzword and a useful new word is not easy. I say the best style is a classic style. Who do you want to be? Bogie and Bacall or River Viper and Paris Hilton?


Note that I capitalize Web above. the AP and the gray lady, The New York Times, still do capitalize this word. Many technical writers follow The IBM Style Guide, which has gone from Web to web, though all three guides still capitalize Internet. The usage question—capitalization is not, strictly speaking, a question of grammar—is this: What is and what is not a proper noun? The school-room definition of the proper-noun concept is that a proper nouns are unique concepts, people, places or things. There is only one May and one June. There is only one Pope, even though there have been many Popes.**

This is my feeling about the Web: there is only one Web and it will always fit my definition of what a proper noun is. An analogy: Just because people have been experiencing the month of June since it was named by the Romans, doesn’t make it june; so why should the Web become the web  merely because it has become omnipresent?

I’m sticking to my guns: the Web is always going to be the Web in what I publish off my own bat; however, when I write for others, the client’s style guide rules, unless I’m asked to develop it.

A whole ‘nother squirming can of worms includes words like website, Web page, webcast, Shares, Friending, memes, tweets and retweets (the Times steadfastly avoids these last two words by calling tweets posts on Twitter). Web words keep coming and the best advice to writers is to watch carefully what happens, and to be true to thine own communicating self, your developing company ethos.

Writing is about choices. What comes next, what is the right choice, requires careful, informed reasoning.


*You probably know that the Web (World Wide Web) is only a part of the Internet, a network of networks on which a variety of protocols—FTP, SMTP and SSL are familiar to most people—for communicating information. The Web uses HTTP (Hypetext Transfer Protocol) to enable browsers to “read” Web pages that are linked together by hyperlinks.

**AP style does not consider the seasons—Spring, Summer, Fall/Autumn and Winter—to be proper nouns and therefore proscribes capitalizing these words. Why don’t they just go whole hog? By their own logic, AP would tell us that FDR declaimed that december 7 is a day that will “live in infamy.”

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Posted in Editorial Style

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