In the 37th Nero Wolfe book, Gambit, Wolfe gleefully burns Webster’s Third New International Dictionary in his waiting room fireplace for the unpardonable crime of switching from prescriptive to descriptive depiction of the English language. That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw this report on Techcrunch that the Associated Press Stylebook is dropping the capitalization of “Internet” in its next edition which takes effect June 1.

internetThe Stylebook is also dropping the capitalization of “Web,” which I don’t have as much of a quibble over since I already used it that way—but like my father, who still believes the widespread acceptance of split infinitives is a sign of the Apocalypse, I tend to prefer language to stay the way it is when I learned it. And it seems to me that capitalizing Internet makes sense as it’s a proper noun, and has been ever since the Internet was invented. An internet is a network that connects multiple networks together. The Internet is the particular internet we came to call by that given name.

But then, most people have never known any other internet than the Internet, nor is the word ever used anymore to refer to anything apart from that internet. So, perhaps it’s not such a surprise that the AP might decide it no longer merits a capital letter. Some news sources, such as The Verge, have already stopped capitalizing it. I personally don’t ever plan to.

There’s no word on whether the AP Stylebook has yet decided to drop the hyphen from “e-book.” As of last year, it still recommended using it, though it had removed it from “email.”

Related: TeleRead contributor Dan Bloom’s arguments five years ago for a small-i “internet.”


  1. You are right. Having “e-mail” and “internet” are silly.

    But I would not worry about the AP Stylebook. Newspapers are dying, read mostly by the old, meaning those who can remember WWII and the Korean War. That shows. With all the layoffs, a lot of papers, including the NY Times and LA Times make blunders that can only be explained by publishing without any editorial review, much less fact checking.

    Heavily dependent on income from newspapers, the AP is dying too. Even worse, it can’t pay enough to attract talent, so it increasingly filled with people who’ve got agendas. That is death to what is supposed to be an objective news service. When I see a AP header to a story, I groan. Often, it’s not worth reading. If you know a topic well, in the background you hear the sound of metal on stone—axes being ground.

    I occasionally had to interact with the AP when I was being sued by the unpleasant lawyers of a certain literary estate. (Its lawyers lost.) I wasn’t impressed then. With each year that passes, the AP gets even more depressing. A couple years back I saw an article by an APn “legal reporter.” He obviously knew nothing about law but did, as I mentioned, have an agenda.

    In a sense, all this is depressing. In the 1930s, individual, big-city papers were rolling in money despite the Depression and could afford the have their own reporters covering Europe and the Nazi menace. In the late 1930s hat grew into some excellent coverage from radio networks such as Edward Murrow and William Shirer. They were people who actually knew what they were talking about. They’re why that older generation still reads papers. They judge the present by an earlier era when journalism had standards and journalists were actually competent.

    Today, the equivalent in television news is pitiful, particularly at the highly paid ‘talking head’ level. Brian Williams is a fabulist, inventing tales that never happened. Dan Rather gives every indication of believing that a memo written in the early 1970s could have been done in a recent version of Microsoft Word. You’re not merely dealing with liars. You’re dealing with incompetent ones. In today’s journalism, even inflated salaries can’t assure competence.

    There’s really no fix. Journalism as a profession is actually quite new, dating only to 1912 when Columbia University accepted money from Joseph Pulitzer to start of school of journalism. With some assistance from Columbia, I actually brought the book he used to promote that idea back into print:

    I might actually be good for the country and the world if journalism ceased to be a profession and instead people who actually know something about a topic wrote on it instead. The Internet would be quite capable of handing the distribution efficiently without newspapers. I’d far rather read lawyers writing on law that some dreadful AP “legal reporter” who is worse than stupid.

    Education illustrates the same problem. Contemporary journalism and education have the same failing. They assume that someone who knows little or nothing about a topic can write/teach on it by learning various methodologies.

    In journalism, the result is a profession that alternates between gushing and hysteria. Both get attention. A pompous blowhard like Trump, for instance, should have never gotten the extensive news coverage he has gotten. Lacking in sense and good at grandstanding, Trump is a lot like journalism itself.

    Education is much the same. Most of the critics of Common Core standards seem to come from child development specialists, who point out how age-inappropriate it is. Teachers are far fewer as critics because they live in an endless world of education fads. The fact that a teaching technique (i.e. whole word) is a disaster never enters their mind. Each failing fad is quickly succeeded by another.

    I once mentioned an obviously outlandish educational fad to a school teacher friend, sneering calling it “the coming thing.” Alas, she was incapable of seeing my sarcasm. Teachers are trained to regard with almost religious awe the latest “coming thing” from ed schools. It’s new, so it must be better. Ed school professors get inordinately rich crippling school teachers to draw from no source but their summer programs and their dreadful textbooks. They and the textbook companies are making out like bandits with the Common Core mandate. Why should they care if it works or not? They are making money.

    For years, I tried to get that teacher-friend to actually learn something about what she taught—computers and music. I failed utterly. She couldn’t tell the difference between and external hard drive and a computer. She was terrified by the thought of taking a music course, even music history, from the music department. Music department courses, she said, were too hard. Everything must come from the ed school, whose dismal standards placed no demands on her and made both failure and learning impossible. You see the results in thousands of classrooms.

    Journalists show a similar indifference when their hysterias fail to pan out (i.e. the “population explosion”) or when politicians they hype prove incompetent (i.e. Jimmy Carter). Knowing nothing but techniques, they don’t even know when they get it wrong. They keep repeating their same failed methods because they know nothing else.

    That’s why I say that what the AP says matters not. True, it’s rotten news coverage is doing the country a lot of harm, particularly poor minority communities beset by crime. But it is as doomed as spelling email as “e-mail.”

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