Those tricky tech terms – when to lowercase, when to hyphenate, and more

Outline of a human head in profile with a TV, radio, and iPod within the head; the head is facing towards lines of computer code with the word "Technology" at the bottom. The entire image is in green and black.The JCR recently reached out to NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council members asking their opinion on spelling and capitalization on a variety of technology terms. Council members were also asked to share their references to back up their responses. The discussion inadvertently revealed how much language can change even within a few short years. The terms are below:

  • It is internet or Internet?
  • Is it website, web-site, Website, or Web-site?
  • Is it email, e-mail, Email, or E-mail?
  • Is it “I Googled it” or “I googled it”?
  • Is it smart phone, smart-phone, or smartphone?
  • Is it the cloud or the Cloud?

Several members relied on the old standby Merriam-Webster, especially for terms like email and internet.

Tara Gandel Hudson, RPR, CRR, for example, chose Internet because “Merriam-Webster still uses the cap. Perhaps it will change some day but not yet.” She also chose Google, adding, “While the preferred way may change to lowercase in the future, I don’t think we’re there yet.” And she chose cloud excepting if “it’s part of a proper name like iCloud.”

Katherine Schilling, RPR, defaulted to Merriam-Webster’s primary entry for all terms except cloud, explaining, “I actually have no good reason for this other than to capitalize it makes it sound like it’s a business’s name.”

Pat Miller, CRI, CPE, abstained completely because “I use almost all of the options depending on which reporter’s work I am reading” as a proofreader, which is probably the most telling statement of all.

Aimee Suhie, RPR: “When the first of these terms came up in transcripts in the dark ages, I’d like to say I Googled them (definitely Googled capped because it is a proper name) and used Internet capped; web site as two words, lowercase; and e-mail hyphenated (although now I would do it as one word, email, because so many terms such as evite and eTran begin with lowercase e no space). I looked up smartphone as recently as this past year on Google and found it to be one word lowercase. But I would cap the Cloud simply because it’s cool.”

Francesca Ivy, RPR, said, “I guess I should revisit these terms from time to time considering how fast the computer world progresses” but offered the following responses:

  • Internet — I always have, but I may have to rethink that choice pretty soon since, according to Merriam-Webster, the lowercase form is becoming more widespread and is the more common form used in British publications.
  • website — It is such a common word now that it looks wrong to be capped or hyphenated.
  • email — Up until recently, I was spelling it e-mail. But when I started on the Proofreading Advisory Council, I learned that they were spelling it as one word and I switched.
  • Googled — Because it’s a company name.
  • smartphone — Same rationale as website; just such a common word. And Merriam-Webster has it as one word.
  • the Cloud — To me, it stands out that way to mean it as connected with the computer world as opposed to a cloud in the sky.

Lisa Inverso (scopist for Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR): “I can tell you how I do it, but I’m not sure I can give the why because just looking up Internet shows a lot of controversy in the why and when to use it. It was once referred to as a proper noun and that’s why it was capitalized, but then if it’s used as an adjective like internet resources, it is not capped. So I’m not sure there are any easy answers to these. Some of these are changing with time, which is making it difficult for everyone.

My comments below reflect how I do things when working on jobs for editing. If I’m proofing jobs, I always go with what the reporter has and keep everything consistent.

  • I use Internet capped when used as a noun.
  • I commonly see website spelled as one word uncapped in articles.
  • I know email is becoming the common spelling without being hyphenated and lowercase.
  • I think Googled is still capped because it is the proper name of the company Google.
  • I have found smartphone as lowercase and one word because there are now many different models of smartphones in existence and not just one.
  • I believe it’s referred to as the Cloud with the capital because it is a proper name for a place where things are being stored.”

Judy Lehman, FAPR, RMR, CRI: “These are my practices and opinions only, of course — because if you look long and dig deep enough, you’ll find conflicting rules and usage and a decent argument for whichever style you choose. So in the end, just be consistent.

  • internet: Because it has become ubiquitous in the same manner as kleenex (for tissue), xerox (for photocopying), and band aid.
  • website, one word, lowercase: The lowercase website is a generic use. I checked over 20 references on this one. Each used one word, not capped. I’m rolling with the majority which, fortunately, is consistent with what I do anyway.
  • email, no hyphen: The word/term has evolved (from electronic mail) in a similar fashion to other words in this list. Once again, the overwhelming majority of references I found used email. And … it’s quicker to type — and every little bit helps! Another consistent example: Gmail, not G-mail.
  • Same with google as a verb, lowercase, although I understand Google doesn’t want us to use google as a generic verb for searching on the internet/web and that we should only use google as a verb when we actually use Google to google, er, search. If one adheres to the rule that the site Google is a proper noun that should be capitalized and that the verb google should be printed with a lowercase leading g, then there would be no confusion about how the word is being used, no?
  • smartphone: One and done. That’s it. Always.
  • the cloud: This one is a little trickier. It hasn’t been in the lingo as long. Some of the usages I found use the Cloud. But the lowercase version makes more sense to me. Cloud in the general sense means a part of cyberspace or is cyberspace. Cyberspace isn’t capped — well, except here where I used it to begin the sentence. And here’s an interesting blurb that solidifies my choice to use lowercase:

What is cloud computing? Everything you need to know now | InfoWorld

Jul 10, 2017 – The “cloud” in cloud computing originated from the habit of drawing the internet as a fluffy cloud in network diagrams. No wonder the most popular meaning of cloud computing refers to running workloads over the internet remotely in a commercial provider’s data center — the so-called “public cloud” model.

Unless you are talking about a particular company’s cloud perhaps, i.e.: IBM Cloud or Azure Cloud computing, which you may then want to capitalize.

In terms of NCRA skills testing, the RPR, RMR, CRR, and CRC Skills Tests are developed based on the rules of punctuation set forth in The Gregg Reference Manual and Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.

 

Read more from the NCRA Proofreading Advisory Council:

Grammatical sleuthing: Best resources for searching in print and online

Commas and hyphens and exclamation points, oh my! A conversation about punctuation