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Issue for December 2017

The End of the Internet as We Knew It

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 9:49 PM

No, we're not talking about the death of net neutrality. This is about lowercasing the word "internet" and its implications for future style adjustments.

By William Dunkerley

Last year the Associated Press Stylebook demoted the Internet to the internet. No more capital "I." This year the Chicago Manual of Style followed suit.

Webster's, on the other hand, says, "In US publications, the capitalized form Internet continues to be more common than internet, although the lowercase form is rapidly gaining more widespread use. In British publications, internet is now the more common form."

My first reaction to this capitalization issue was to side with Webster's. After all, I figured, it's the name of a specific global network. Did AP goof up on this out of misunderstanding that? It brought to mind the word "irregardless." Through misunderstanding, people have conflated the words "regardless" and "irrespective" to come up with the mishmash "irregardless." Why, that word is even self-contradictory if you parse it.

But Editors Only has strived to be at the forefront of style when it comes to the evolving use of technical terms. We changed "Web site" to "website" back in 1998. AP didn't make the jump until 2010. We were also quick to get rid of "E-mail" in favor of "email." So my wariness toward lowercasing "internet" was out of step. I sought advice from our editorial team about the inevitable change to lowercase.

Sage Advice

Columnist Peter Jacobi put it this way:

"My feeling is that internet has become, if it wasn't always, a generic. It's not a brand like Kleenex or MSNBC or Cheerios. It's like facial tissues or cable network or cereal.

"Verdi's La Traviata is a title and requires capital letters. Opera, a form of communication of which 'Traviata' is an example, does not; opera (lowercase) will do. The New York Times is a brand and requires capitals; that the Times is a newspaper does not. Like opera and newspaper, in my view, so film and radio and cable and wireless and magazine and telephone and cell and telegram and television and fax and computer and mail and slow mail and email and public address and website and, yes, internet, which is just another technique or way or device that allows for communication. It is a generic label, no capital letter required. I believe lowercase makes more sense."

Managing editor Denise Gable had this to say:

"I see both sides of the argument. However, if I'm forced to take a stand, I say if you accept that the English language is in a constant state of evolution, then the latest decision by the AP style guide to make internet lowercase makes sense. The telephone, phonograph, and television were all capitalized at one point, but as they became more common, they were treated as non-proper nouns and no longer capitalized. More recently, the same happened with fax, website, and email. The internet has definitely reached this point and should be treated as such."

Eileen Ferris, who works on the business strategy side of things here but also teaches English at the college level, remarked:

"I was initially ready to say I wanted to stick with 'Internet.' The argument that we've gone from 'Web site' to 'website' was not convincing. Then I gave it some more thought. We don't use 'Smartphone.' Instead, we use 'smartphone' as the generic for the brand name 'Apple iPhone' that was the first Internet (or internet) phone and for similar devices. As more of our basic devices go electronic, it seems that more of the terminology goes lowercase. Blame it on email or the Apple iPhone. Before 'email' was 'email' it was 'e-mail,' but the 'Apple iPhone' used the lowercase 'i' from the beginning."

Senior editor Meredith Dias was first to question how we should treat "internet." She also works as a senior production editor for a book publisher (Globe Pequot) that follows Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster. Here's her comment:

"When AP made the change, I thought about whether or not we should implement it in Editors Only and STRAT. We follow some AP conventions and retain others from style guides such as Chicago (e.g., the Oxford comma, title caps in article titles and subheads, etc.). When Chicago joined the revolution, the case was closed in my eyes. I think it's only a matter of time before Merriam-Webster follows suit; they've already conceded somewhat by listing 'internet' as an accepted variant."

There is a close counterpart to the vast computer network that we call the internet. It is the long-existing network for telephone communication. That system is commonly abbreviated in all caps: PSTN. But when it's written out, the caps are dropped and what's left is the "public switched telephone network."

So "internet" it is. I think following usage makes more sense than being stubbornly prescriptive.


There will always be those with a prescriptive bent, though.

For instance, the Federal Highway Administration insists that the "Interstate Highway System" should always be rendered with initial caps.

Well, so much for washington.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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What's in a Word? Part II

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 9:49 PM

Words can fail. How do we choose the ones that best fit the occasion?

By Peter P. Jacobi

Last issue I ended on the topic of "words that paint a picture." Now, on to "words that fail."

Consider how stupidly exaggerating this advertisement from the fragrance Emporio Armani: "Together we can fly. Together we touch the sky. Together we are unstoppable." The photos constructed to support those unbelievable messages complement the words. I guess the ad might make a few readers feel good enough to seek out the product. Somehow, however, this sort of salesmanship mocks the language, and I ask myself again: "What's in a word?"

But then, these Madison Avenue gurus often fail with words, turning car commercials, for instance, into inane visual journeys through fantasy and fable, having decided that it's not enough to tell us how solid the car is and dependable and reasonably priced for what we get. Words can fail.

Words That Fill Silence

Those of us who write and edit know that. And it's best to be up-front about such situations and to be ourselves as we express what needs to be expressed. The most profound lesson might come when we face the most unbelievable, face experiences that leave us speechless and drained. For instance, when there are returns to that dormant hell on earth, Auschwitz.

The New York Times' A. M. Rosenthal did and won a Pulitzer for his report, "There Is No News from Auschwitz." It begins: "The most terrible thing of all, somehow, was that at Brzezinka the sun was bright and warm, the rows of graceful poplars were lovely to look upon, and on the grass near the gates children played. It all seemed frighteningly wrong, as in a nightmare, that at Brzezinka the sun should ever shine or that there should be light and greenness and the sound of young laughter. It would be fitting if at Brzezinka the sun never shone and the grass withered, because this is a place of unutterable terror."

At the end of his report, detailing what he experienced during a personal visit, he concludes: "There is nothing new to report about Auschwitz. It was a sunny day and the trees were green and at the gates the children played."

What more could have been said or should have been?

Words That Are Honest

Former NBA star Ray Allen visited Auschwitz recently. He wrote: "The first thing I felt when I walked through those iron gates was ... heavy. The air around me felt heavy. I stood on the train tracks where the prisoners of the camp would arrive, and I felt like I could hear the trains coming to a halt. I had to take a breath to center myself. It was so immediate, so overwhelming.

"We walked through the barracks and gas chambers, and what I remember most is what I heard: nothing. I've never experienced silence like that. Apart from footsteps, the complete lack of sound was almost jarring. It's eerie and sobering. You're standing in these rooms where so much death has taken place, and your mind is trying to come to terms with all that's happened in this space.

"One question keeps repeating over and over and over in your mind: How can human beings do this to one another? How does somebody process that? You can't."

Words. How to find the right ones. Not by fussing over them but reacting naturally to what has happened to you.

One more reflection on Auschwitz, by a survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel: "Let us repeat it once again: Auschwitz is something else, always something else. It is a universe outside the universe, a creation that exists parallel to creation. Auschwitz lies on the other side of life and on the other side of death. There, one lives differently, one walks differently, one dreams differently. Auschwitz represents the negation and failure of human progress. It negates the human design and casts doubts on its validity. Then, it defeated culture; later it defeated art because just no one could imagine Auschwitz before Auschwitz, no one can now retell Auschwitz after Auschwitz. The truth of Auschwitz remains hidden in its ashes. Only those who lived it in their flesh and in their minds can possibly transform their experience into knowledge. Others, despite their best intentions, can never do so."

Those words differ from those of Rosenthal and Allen because they have been released out of a survivor's reality. They are honest in a different way. But all three reactions are expressed in words with gripping focus. And they are honest.

We must always be honest; that's when language serves us best.

I'll have more to say about this at some point, sooner or later. But enough for now, I think. Enough to think about.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 9:49 PM

Assessing the readability of a NewYorker.com excerpt.

This month, we're taking a look at a sample passage from a December 21 article on NewYorker.com ("As Winter Snows Disappear, Dogsled Racers Are Trading Skis for Wheels" by Meera Subramanian). Here's the excerpt, with longer words italicized:

"By the second day, the snow had melted just enough to turn the trails into a muddy but navigable quagmire. When the organizers announced, early Sunday morning, that the race was on, the grounds erupted in excitement and movement. The Omernicks headed to their truck to get the team hooked up, and soon Pogo and the other dogs were straining at their lines. Keith positioned himself in a wide-legged stance on his rig, fingers curled around brakes that would stop working when he hit the first big puddle. Then the team was off."

Word count: 93 words
Average sentence length: 19 words (20, 19, 24, 25, 5)
Words with 3+ syllables: 5 percent (5/93 words)
Fog Index: (19+5) *.4 = 9 (9.6, no rounding)

As you may remember, an ideal sample carries a Fog Index under 12. This sample falls well within the ideal range at 9. What can we learn about clear, succinct writing from this sample, and how can we apply that wisdom in our own work?

One reason the Fog Score is low: simplicity of word choice. The writer reaches for the rafters sparingly, using three-plus-syllable words only when the sentence calls for it. Apart from the phrase "navigable quagmire" in the first sentence, we never see two longer words in a row. In a more problematic sample, we might rephrase here and there to reduce a higher Fog score, but it isn't necessary here. Cutting through the Fog is about simplifying our writing to reach a wider audience, not stripping a writer of his or her voice.

Sentence length also contributes to the Fog Index here. We have 93 words split into 5 sentences. This helps with the average sentence length component of our score by keeping the total below 20. (In most cases, we find that we're already underwater if we see an average sentence length above 20. Unless the writing is very conversational, the percentage of longer words generally drives us over the Fog "cliff" in those instances.)

The take-away here: Don't under-write, and certainly don't over-edit, in pursuit of an ideal score. In this sample we see that a 25-word sentence can be offset by a 5-word sentence. A few "fancy" words are neutralized by a few dozen simpler ones. If you write with this kind of moderation in mind, you'll find that your Fog Index will fall within range naturally.

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Automizing Magazine Jobs?

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 9:49 PM

In the news: Poynter explores to what extent journalism might be taken over by robots.

"Will robots automate our journalism jobs?" Poynter.org asks in a December 19 question. The same headline supplies an intriguing answer: "In many ways, they already have." The question comes hot on the heels of several reports, including one from PricewaterhouseCoopers, showing that as many as half of human jobs could be performed by robots.

Melody Kramer of Poynter.org discusses how automation might affect journalism jobs, reflecting upon a November 2017 Quartz piece in which Sarah Kessler, deputy editor of Quartz at Work, investigated how much of her job might be automated by robots. (Read the full piece here.) She interviews Kessler and John Keefe, a Quartz Bot Studio developer. Read the interview here.

Also Notable

Most Read Print Magazines in 2017

This year, AARP The Magazine was America's most read print magazine. The title circulates bimonthly to its 22 million members and has, according to Greg Dool of Folio:, "steadily grown its print audience over the past several years, adding more than 5 million readers." AARP's success this year reflects the aging of the average print reader; according to Dool, "None of the top five magazines -- which combined encompass 56 percent of the total number of "magazine readers" across the 150+ titles measured -- has an audience with a median age younger than 47." Read more here.

AdAge's Top Magazines of 2017

AdAge has just released its picks for top magazines of 2017. Before revealing the winners, the staff touched upon some of the major industry changes this year, including industry consolidation that reduced the "Big Six" magazine publishers to the "Big Four" (with Time Inc. and Rodale having been acquired by Meredith and Hearst, respectively). AdAge's top picks all share a common publishing strategy. Writes the editorial staff: "Every honoree on our Magazines of the Year list still produces print editions that make money -- in many cases a lot of money -- while they've been building out their increasingly impressive digital businesses." To see the winners, click here.

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