The Grammarphobia Blog

Why capitalize the “I” in “Internet”?

Q: Please explain why “Internet” is capitalized in print publications. I know of no other means of communication that is: “radio,” “television,” “telephone,” etc.

A. Although many publications do capitalize the first letter of the word “Internet,” many others don’t.

For example, the New York Times capitalizes it, but the Times of London doesn’t.

From what we can gather, US publications tend to capitalize the word while British publications tend to lowercase it.

Dictionaries, on the other hand—in both the US and the UK—generally capitalize the word when used to describe the interconnected system of networks that links computers around the world.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the word is usually capitalized when used to refer to the global network that evolved out of ARPANET, the old Pentagon network.

The earliest citations for the word in the OED are from the 1970s, when it referred to “a computer network consisting of or connecting a number of smaller networks, such as two or more local area networks connected by a shared communications protocol.”

In these early examples—from 1974 and 1978—and a third example from 1981, the word “internet” is lowercase.

In all the later OED examples referring to the global network, the first letter of the word “Internet” is capitalized.

And we, as you’ve probably noticed, capitalize it on our blog.

But why did people begin referring to the global network as “the Internet” in the 1980s?

In Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (1996), Katie Haffner and Matthew Lyon offer one possible explanation:

“Because this growing conglomeration of networks was able to communicate using the TCP/IP protocols, the collection of networks gradually came to be called the ‘Internet,’ borrowing the first word of ‘Internet Protocol.’ ”

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