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What's in a Footnote? An Answer to THE 'Internet' v. 'internet' Question

By George Khoury, Esq. on November 15, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

For years, grammarians and spell checkers have been telling you to capitalize the word "internet." Then, a couple years back, a change in the capitalization tide took place, and over time, the word lost its proper noun status. It even reached, or maybe was just exacerbated by, the Supreme Court.

However, despite the fact that spell checkers now have no problem with, and often recommend using a lowercase "i" in "internet," the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has not been persuaded by the so-called "trend" and harbors a difference of opinion. In a recent case, Alexander v. Verizon, which is actually rather fascinating for the discussion on the intersection of privacy and criminal justice, the appellate court devoted a rather lengthy footnote to the subject of capitalizing the word "internet." (See footnote 12).

"Why Not?" Is Not Persuasive

In the footnote, the court acknowledges the change in thought towards capitalizing the word, then rejects each reason, pretty much as sheer linguistic laziness. In case you didn't know, the court explains that the reason the word internet was capitalized was to differentiate the World Wide Web from other internets. After all, as the court explains, the term internet is merely shorthand for inter-networks. The -- capital "I"-- Internet refers to the global inter-network.

The court acknowledge that everyone else (ie. New York Times, the AP, etc ...) is doing it (not capitalizing internet), but basically says they don't want to jump off the bridge too. However, since everyone is jumping off the bridge and seems to be just fine, heck, even better off for doing it, maybe the court should consider jumping too. After all, if you've never jumped off a bridge, cliff, or other structure, into the safety of a deep pool of water, (assuming you can swim) you are missing out.

Linguistic Laziness

Granted, the real men in black (robes) may not be in bridge jumping shape, but that doesn't mean they're afraid of handing out Posner-esque benchslaps. Concluding the footnote, in so many words, the court basically states that not capitalizing "internet" in order to save a keystroke is the level of laziness the court cannot endorse:

Furthermore, to the extent "decapitalizing [I]nternet is part of a universal linguistic tendency to reduce the amount of effort required to produce and process commonly-used words," we reject the tasks of striking an additional key or reading over a capital "I" as persuasive reasons to alter a word.

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