Capitalization and Change

Once upon a time the World Wide Web was a proper noun displayed in all capital letters. It was new and important and the way we presented the World Wide Web in descriptions affirmed the nature of its title. However, as time has passed, the web has become a common noun. It is treated the same as air and water, practically essential for life and not worthy of capitalization. We also dropped the descriptors in the title “World Wide” and just refer to it as the web now.

This illustrates the fluid nature of language. Grammar rules are rules for a time, and language evolves and changes over time. Some words and concepts might start as proper nouns but over time become common nouns.

The nature of change in grammar and language can be challenging for those who are writers and editors. We want to express ourselves accurately, but words and expressions change over time, so it becomes a judgment call regarding “correct” usage.

This is where communication standards can be helpful for an organization. Such standards can specify how the organization treats certain words, such as web or Web. Even communication standards need to be updated periodically, but they are helpful for editors because they cut down on the number of decisions that must be made about usage. In the absence of communication standards, internal consistency in a document is important. It would look unprofessional to read an article where the words Web and web were used interchangeably throughout the document. So in the absence of a standard, be consistent.

Industry standards, such as the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style are important for a baseline. However, organizations often start with adherence to a particular style manual, then add their own variations and particular applications in their own style guide or standards.

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