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Writing Tip: October 1, 2001

Cyberlanguage

Which word in each group is the correct choice?

1. internet or Internet

2. email, E-mail, e-mail, or Email

3. website, web site, or Web site

4. on-line, on line, or online

The answer depends upon whom one asks--or, more precisely, upon which dictionary or style manual one consults.

In truth, all of these "cyberwords" are so new to the English lexicon that they are still very much in the process of evolving. If they follow the evolutionary path of earlier words in our language, then all spaces, hyphens, and capital letters will eventually be whittled away and we will be left with internet, email, website, and online.

In the meantime, though, we can look at how several reputable sources weigh in on these words and phrases.

Our lexicon of choice, Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.), advises us to

--capitalize Internet,
--hyphenate and capitalize E-mail as a noun but lowercase it as a verb, and
--hyphenate on-line both as an adjective ("on-line shopping") and as an adverb ("We shopped on-line").

Webster's 10th has no listing for the compound website and no listing for the single word Web (i.e., as a proper noun). Instead, it gives us World Wide Web and notes that it is "also called Web." Thus we can infer that Web site would be two words, the first of which should be capitalized.

Keep in mind, of course, that when the phrase Web site is used as an adjective preceding a noun, we hyphenate it just as we do other multiple-word adjectives that embody a single meaning. We write "Please visit our Web site" because in this sentence, Web site is a noun phrase. But we would write "Fred is a talented Web-site designer."

The American Heritage Dictionary lists the closed compound website, with the following rationale: "The development of website as a single uncapitalized word mirrors the development of other technological expressions which have tended to evolve into unhyphenated forms as they become more familiar. Thus email has recently been gaining ground over the forms E-mail and e-mail. . . . [and] there has been an increasing preference for closed forms like homepage, online, and printout" (http://www.bartleby.com/61/57/W0075725.html).

American Heritage also capitalizes both Internet and the shortened form of that word, Net.

On its Internet FAQ page, our style manual of choice, The Chicago Manual of Style, cites Webster's 10th on these issues, adding that "At least a few Chicago editors favor online and hope the next edition of [Webster's] will kill the hyphen." The editors of Chicago further note that while Webster's 10th advocates capitalizing E-mail, "most of us here prefer to lowercase e-mail." They conclude their comments on the subject with valuable advice: "As always, what matters most is that the style remain consistent throughout a given document"
(http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/cmosfaq.htm).

Chicago prefers the nouns Internet and Web site, although the editors confess on the FAQ page that the manual "has not established a standard, but is waiting a while for the dust to settle on these questions." So until the dust does settle, simply select a reputable dictionary and follow it consistently.

Copyright 2001 Get It Write

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