The capital I.
June 20, 2011 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Calling etymologists, linguists, lexicographers, and research librarians! Was there a time when 'television,' 'radio,' or 'newspaper' were always capitalized?

At the end of the On the Network Manifesto, Derek Powazek says that the word "Internet" should no longer be capitalized because technology is capitalized when it is new and scary; citing television, radio, and newspapers as examples. Is this true?
Please cite your sources and stay on the task at hand. I know the argument for and against capitalization, at the moment I'm only dealing with this particular argument.
posted by thebestsophist to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It doesn't seem likely to me.
posted by tjenks at 3:37 PM on June 20, 2011

The Internet is not capitalized because it was at one point new and scary. It is capitalized because it's a proper noun (there's only one of it, after all). Contrast it with intranet, which has always been lower case. Source: Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed., 7.81.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 3:42 PM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Sources compiled in the Oxford English Dictionary spell "television" with a lowercase T from the very beginning, roughly the first decade of the 20th century.

The story is rather more complicated with "telephone." The OED shows lowercase citations going back to 1835 for "gutta-percha telephone," which seems to be a kind of rubber speaking tube or rubber sound reflector, depending on model. A device created by Reis around 1860 was called Telephone in German and seems to have been consistently capitalized in the press. The name of Alexander Graham Bell's telephone never seems to have been capitalized.

"Radio," in the sense of transmission and reception of signal-carrying radio waves, was never capitalized.

The word "newspaper" goes back far enough that the question of its capitalization is moot. The earliest citations (dating to the latter half of the 17th century) show capitalized usage, but also capitalize other common nouns, as was the custom at the time. FWIW, citations from the 18th and especially 19th centuries do not show the word capitalized.
posted by Nomyte at 3:53 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: (Further to Nomyte's great research, it may be worth noting that all nouns are capitalized in German, which may have influenced the capitalization in the press reports.)
posted by girlpublisher at 4:29 PM on June 20, 2011

Also, I think the global public Internet was initially capitalized in order to distinguish it from various local internets. This has probably become less important over the years as the internet has become near-ubiquitous and entered common parlance.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:09 PM on June 20, 2011

The problem is complicated by the fact that "internet" is used so often as an adjective. "I'm having an internet conversation with someone." etc. I think if I was talking about the Internet, it might have a capital.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:16 PM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: tjenks: that evidence is quite compelling, thank you.
Nomyte and girlpublisher: thank you for the research, that was exactly what I needed (I miss having access to the OED).
posted by thebestsophist at 6:59 PM on June 20, 2011

Derek Powazek doesn't realize that (angels, trumpet sounds) The Internet is and always has been made of many internets, an older world. The practice of internetworking existed before the Internet: when you'd connected two networks, you'd made an internet (or inter-net).
posted by rokusan at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2011

Or doesn't seem to realize, anyway. Maybe he's dissembling.
posted by rokusan at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2011

Response by poster: He definitely understand how the Internet works, he's been part of the web and startup illuminati since 1995.
posted by thebestsophist at 8:06 PM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think there is a problem with your comparisons.. ie The Internet is more like the Press than a newspaper - which is capitalised.
posted by mary8nne at 5:32 AM on June 21, 2011

> more like the Press ... which is capitalised.

No it's not, except in the title of a particular newspaper.
posted by languagehat at 7:21 AM on June 21, 2011

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