When Did the Web Get a Small "w"?

Here in England, the well-known and much loved actress Emma Thompson recently started a debate about the use by kids of slang terms that only serve to make them sound stupid. She cites things such as “yeahbut”, “like”, “innit” (perhaps an abbreviated form of “I’m a nitwit”), and use of the word “well” in phrases such as “I’m well tipsy”. Or even “I’m well ill”. Somebody even wrote to the newspaper to say that, as his train was pulling into Sevenoaks station, one of a group of teenage girls sitting opposite asked “Is this like Sevenoaks station?” – to which he replied “Yes, though the amazing similarity is probably due to the fact that it IS Sevenoaks station…”

But is does seem as though our vocabulary is changing at an increasing rate these days. At one time we had a “World Wide Web”, and then we just had a “Web”, and now – according to the latest version of the Microsoft Manual of Technical Style that all us technical writers have to abide by – we just have a “web”. And they even make us miss out the spaces now, so we have a “website” rather than a “Web site”. But I suppose it saves on paper and network bandwidth.

And I guess it just mirrors the way that “the Internet” became “the ‘Net”, then just “the net”. And “E-mail” morphed to “e-mail” and then to “email”. It’s happened in the past to things like “Biro” (invented by Ladislas Biro) and to “Hoover” (named after William H. Hoover, who started the company that perfected earlier designs). And then, once they get to be lower-cased and spaceless, we start creating our verb derivations – such as “emailing” and “hoovering”. So how long will it be before we hear about people “webbing” and “netting”. The fact that our wealth of newly-derived words often already have a proper meaning seems to be irrelevant these days.

One wonderful line from some obscure poem I read ages ago, supposedly about the noises that emanate from an upstairs apartment, was “The moving hoover hooveth, and having hoov’d moves on”.

But what’s interesting is if the real reason we had to get rid of “World Wide Web” was because it started with the wrong letters. Having to repeatedly say “doubleyew doubleyew doubleyew dot…” each time you read out a website URL was a pain. Though, thanks to George Dubya Bush, we can now generally get away with just “dub dub dub dot…”. Though I always find that hearing it conjures up visions of a nursery rhyme.

Perhaps if Tim Berners-Lee had started out by calling it the “Random Resources Repository”, we’d still have a proper name for it. I mean, it would be easy to say “arrrrrrrgh dot…”, and everyone would understand that the extended length of the arrrrrrrgh signified three of them. And I doubt that even our linguistic regulation people here at Microsoft would decide we had to call the stuff on servers “reposites”. Plus, we could have arrrrrrrghlogs and arrrrrrrghmail and arrrrrrrghpplications (though that just sounds like somebody posh saying “application”).

But I suppose it would only encourage more pirate jokes (what did the doctor say to the pirate with a bad leg? “It looks like you’ve got arrrrrrrghthritis”)…

Comments (2)

  1. Keith J. Farmer says:

    It's been "the net" and "email" and "the web" here (WA, USA) since the early 90s.

  2. Phil Winstanley says:

    Either you're on too much or too little medication. Keep at it 😉