June 3, 2010

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Internet with a capital I, WWW and other terms & lead or led

Posted in Internet with a capital I, lead & led, WWW and other terms at 10:15 am by dlseltzer


Last week, we talked about the word ‘matriculate’ in the wlut.

A reader writes:

While I agree that the common definition of matriculate includes both to enroll and to be admitted, I suggest that it is only the first meaning that really makes sense. You can be admitted to many colleges or universities but you usually only enroll in one (at a time). The OED suggests matricula originally referred to a list or a register of persons belonging to an order, society or the like. I suppose one can belong to several orders or societies simultaneously but it sounds more precise to me that one could be admitted to many schools but enroll or matriculate at only one. I imagine the orders or societies of the original usage did not permit multiple memberships.

While ‘matriculate’ does mean both ‘to enroll’ and ‘to admit,’ ‘to enroll’ is the more common meaning, and it corresponds better to the Latin definition of matricula. However, searching for any kind of logic or sense in the English language is asking for a world of hurt and is best avoided.

A reader writes:

I was sure you were going to move on to attack ‘He graduated Princeton.’ Or is it now considered o.k. to omit the “from?”

Nope. It is not okay. While ‘he graduated Princeton’ may be common, it is incorrect. Universities graduate students, but students graduate from universities.


As someone who is a big advocate of precision and clarity in communication (and a big fan of a healthy environment), I was a tad taken aback recently, when I read the following:

CNN Breaking news –

BP ‘s top official upgrades impact of Gulf oil spill from “very modest” to “environmental catastrophe.”


Tip 1: Internet with a capital i and words on the WWW

A reader writes:

We are writing a technology grant where some of the “rules” are a little fuzzy (e.g., Smartphone vs. smart phone). One that we suspect has been settled is whether internet should be capitalized. Do you know?

Language is evolving to reflect advances in technology, but even though the Internet and WWW have been around for a while, the associated terminology has yet to be fully settled. There is still disagreement surrounding e-mail versus email and website versus web site and others. However, the reader is correct that people have generally settled on the capitalization of Internet.

As you have undoubtedly surmised, Internet should be capitalized as a proper noun when you are referring to the global Internet–some offices may have smaller networks called intranets or internets, and those would remain lower case. The capitalization of Internet may change eventually; in fact, Wired Magazine hasn’t capitalized Internet or web since 2004. That being said, the mainstream style manuals still capitalize Internet as do most magazines and journals, and I think it is reasonable when we consider the Internet as THE Internet and, thus, a proper noun.

One question that I have asked myself is when should we refer to the Internet and when to the World Wide Web (which also should be capitalized as a proper noun, by the way). The question occurred to me last week when I was cautioning you not to rely on the WWW as a source of truth. The difference is this: the Internet is the network itself, a network of networks, the infrastructure that enables the connection, and the WWW is how we access information through browsers and web pages. When we refer to the information we find online (or is it on-line), we should refer to the WWW.

But I brought up a few other words that are still contentious: Let’s start with the easy ones first.

online or on-line?

I don’t see any particular need for a hyphen, here, online is fine as is offline.

web site or website?

This one is complicated by the fact that there is a school of thought that states that both of these are wrong, and it should be spelled “Web site.’ They posit that since it is based on the capital W in World Wide Web it should maintain that capital letter. Frankly, I think that is silly. For this, I will go along with the AP Style book which changed the preferred spelling from web site to website on April 16, 2010 with an announcement on AP’s Twitter stream. AP has a Twitter stream? It is indeed a brave new world.

e-mail or email?

I’m torn on this one. And here is where you find the most controversy. The word is based on electronic mail, so including the hyphen makes sense. On the other hand, we’re all familiar with the term, and usually, over time, familiarity means doing away with the hyphen. You can find it frequently with the hyphen, but even more frequently without. I’ve been reading a ton of arguments on both sides, and I have discovered that, at the end of the day, I really don’t care. So knock yourself out. Choose e-mail if you like it. Choose email if you prefer. All I ask is that you use it consistently in the same document. Deal? Deal.

Tip 2: Lead or led

We talked about this once before but I ran into it again this week so I thought I would mention it briefly. I read this in a proposal:

The research team will be lead by a seasoned investigator with decades of experience in this area.

Okay, this is simple. It’s Colonel Mustard in the library with the lead pipe. Oh, I very much hope that you get this reference or else I am really dating myself. And I really hope they haven’t updated the weaponry in the game of Clue.

What the writer of the sentence above meant to write was this:

The research team will be led by a seasoned investigator with decades of experience in this area.

The past tense of the verb, lead, pronounced like feed, is led, pronounced like fed. I think we get the words confused because of the aforesaid lead in that pipe, which is also pronounced like fed.

But remember this: when you want the past tense of the verb, to lead, you want to use ‘led.’


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