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Internet – Podictionary Word of the Day

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I use the internet so much that it’s hard to believe that when I finished school not only was there not an internet, there weren’t even personal computers.

Okay, that’s not quite true, there were things like Atari and Commodore and Apple II but in 1981 I graduated as an electrical engineer in June and IBM didn’t release its first PC until August.

All these machines certainly couldn’t talk to each other. It was 5 years before the wires were even in place so that computers could get interconnected between universities.

And yet the word internet appeared 18 years before that, when I was only 10 back in 1968.  That’s a year before Arpanet—that’s the project people credit as the very start of the internet.

The reason the word internet preceded the actual network is that it’s such a logical word.

Inter- just like I used earlier in interconnected, and -net, as in network.

And these were logical people, thinking ahead, planning, anticipating.

The first appearance was in conference proceedings from the IEEE—the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The rest of us didn’t notice the internet until the explosion of the World Wide Web in the mid ‘90s.

Everyone knew this was something important. I had an editor at the time and she knew the internet was important and so she made me capitalize it every time I wrote it down—by this time I had a PC, a Mac actually.

internet-signDictionaries still suggest capitalization, but as time marches on the internet becomes so important that it melts into the background and we don’t need to capitalize it any more that we would the word money or food.

I notice that Microsoft Word 2000’s dictionary suggested capitalization, but Word 2003 did not.

The text you just read above was written in 2005 and I’m here to report that in March of 2009 The Oxford English Dictionary updated their entry for internet.

The OED report that I have it backwards. Early examples of the word were not capitalized but later ones were.

I still refuse to do so.

They also say that the adoption of the word was “probably greatly reinforced by use in the compound Internet Protocol.”

At first glance this would appear to be bass akwards, but thinking about it for a moment it actually does make sense.

It wasn’t that IP or Internet Protocol was named because it was a protocol for use on the internet. Instead, Internet Protocol was named because it was a protocol for interconnecting networks.

Techie people who worked in the mines of the early internet would have been first to pick up on the techie jargon and it was from their lingua franca that the rest of us monkeys learned to see and do.


Five days a week Charles Hodgson produces Podictionary – the podcast for word lovers, Thursday episodes here at OUPblog. He’s also the author of several books including his latest History of Wine Words – An Intoxicating Dictionary of Etymology from the Vineyard, Glass, and Bottle.

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