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AP says write 'website,' not 'Web site'

Language nerds have been chatting all afternoon about a Twitter update from the Associated Press's APStylebook account--no, not the oft-quoted FakeAPStylebook--in which the news service revealed a change in its prose policy:

Responding to reader input, we are changing Web site to website. This appears on Stylebook Online today and in the 2010 book next month.

I've been writing "Web site" since some 15 years ago (back when you'd need to differentiate among Web, FTP and Gopher sites), so this feels like a drastic shift. My instinctive reaction is to stick with traditional practice, but I'm not completely sure what to think.

In AP's favor, you could argue that since we don't capitalize "telephone" or "television," we shouldn't do that for another communications medium. In the other corner, you could note that most people still write "Web" with an initial capital and, not being German, don't fuse two-noun phrases into one word very often.

Then there's the both-sides-are-wrong response: writing just "site," on the theory that any bozo will know you mean "a site on the World Wide Web, accessible to everybody with an Internet connection."

In any case, The Post is apparently honoring precedent. Copy editor Bill Walsh e-mailed that he didn't know of any plans to change our style. (Walsh then asked me to write about AP's switch from "mike" to "mic," but I think we've got quite enough stylebook angst in this post already.)

Are we right and is AP wrong? How do you write this term? For extra credit: How would the late, great lexicographical giant William Safire rule in this case?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 16, 2010; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture  
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Comments

When you say "most people still write 'Web' with an initial capital," to whom are you referring? Writers who follow antiquated rules, perhaps, but not normal people. As terms in the English language, "web" and "website" and "internet" reached a critical mass of common usage many, many years ago. There's nothing special or proper about them, so I don't see the need to capitalize them anymore. I'm an editor myself, and I'm amazed that it took AP this long to make this change.

Posted by: joerominiecki | April 16, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

I vote for "website," as that is how I have been writing it for years. I am not opposed to "site," although ironically, it seems a little informal.

Posted by: Eremita1 | April 16, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

I've always thought of Safire as having been in the Hemingway school of less words than more, i.e. economical writing, so I'd bet he'd approve of "website."

That being said: "Are we right and is AP wrong?" should be "Are we right and is the AP wrong?"

German intrusions into the English language are welcome, as both are teutonic.

Yoda intrusions? Not so much.

Posted by: Georgetwoner | April 17, 2010 1:35 AM | Report abuse

As one word, it's downstyle, and that's what's natural for "website." The "Web" is capitalized because it is the name of one thing; "website," though derived from that name, is a common noun.

The best analogy is "Earth": capitalized when referring to one planet among others, downstyle when referring to soil.

Posted by: philautos | April 17, 2010 1:39 AM | Report abuse

This is a change that will take years to filter through the user community. How many people use e-mail versus email?

I do like the change for ease of use, but I know I will use "Web site" occasionally; old habits and 1 am blogging rarely relent to new thoughts.

Posted by: PamDB | April 17, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

It seems like I've been fighting for "website" (or even "site") for years. I have had mixed feelings about it, being a grammar stickler on the one hand, and a plain language advocate on the other, but I'm quite comfortable now advocating against "Web site" on the merits and no longer just because it looks horrible and it's harder to type (which are both also true, in my opinion).

In the end, I think the Web and the Internet are so well known that I'm even almost ready to drop the capitalization on those two proper nouns as well, a la kleenex and xerox (though obviously those were both originally brand names, and are thus slightly distinct from Web and Internet, which are terms no-one owns).

But getting back to "website" itself, there's another argument for keeping it lowercase, put succinctly by the Grammar Girl (though she incorrectly asserts the Web is the same thing as the Internet, this doesn't damage her argument):

"Most language experts believe the Internet is one big specific place that people visit, so Internet is capitalized, as is Web because it is just a shorthand name for the Internet. On the other hand, the Web is populated by many different websites, so website is not capitalized. Internet and Web are proper nouns because they refer to something specific, whereas website is a common noun that can be used to refer to many different places on the Internet."

(excerpted from http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/Capitalizing-Proper-Nouns.aspx)

Posted by: HaigEK | April 17, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

I go with website. As joerominiecki says, common usage over tradition.

I have written website without really thinking about it -- maybe because I have never have had to write much about FTP sites or Gopher sites.

I looked at the website of the World Wide Web Consortium which develops Web standards. I see they use both Web site and website.

Posted by: SteveDC1 | April 17, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Here's what Answers.com says on the topic: "The transition from World Wide Web site to Web site to website as a single uncapitalized word mirrors the development of other technological expressions which have tended to take unhyphenated forms as they become more familiar. Thus email is gaining ground over the forms E-mail and e-mail, especially in texts that are more technologically oriented. Similarly, there is an increasing preference for closed forms like homepage, online, and printout."

Posted by: morphology | April 17, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

AP is way too far from being the academy of English language. I have read and used "web site" for as many years and it is grammatically correct so I'll keep writing it that way.

Posted by: JohnCe | April 17, 2010 8:11 AM | Report abuse

whutz nrmal? y we need rulz neway?

The barbarians are through the gates, it seems.

Posted by: Apostrophe | April 17, 2010 8:40 AM | Report abuse

Language changes. To determine if the words in question have shifted from two words to a single compound listen to how they are pronounced. If each word has its own stress they are still separate. If instead there is a primary stress on one with a secondary stress on the other then they've merged into one. You may remember a rockabilly band by the name of "Stray Cats." Originally it was two words. It is still written as separate words and pronounced separately by casual observers, however among aficionados (including my niece) the pronunciation became STRAYcats. Within that group, it became a single compound word (regardless of orthography).

Web and site are likely still in transition, but I believe the trend is toward compounding. I certainly use WEBsite, with 'web' getting more stress than 'site.' Given Rob's column today, I suspect that if we could hear him pronounce the word(s), he'd have them stressed equally, hence he's really using two words.

Thanks, Rob. First time commenter here, but I've learned from your columns for years.

Posted by: bipi | April 17, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

I consider "Web site" and "website" acceptable. I choose "website" because I feel the capitalization in "Web site" every so slightly distracts or emphasizes the first word. Usually in a discussion the thought is on the second part of the expression, a site, and not the Web itself. In a discussion of the Web generally I might choose "Web site"--but in my job (providing data about individual websites for analysis) I am almost always discussing websites, and not the Web in general.

Posted by: cmckeonjr | April 17, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

My association started using "website" in its publications last year, much to the chagrin of our copy editor. It's all I use now.

Posted by: jbutler9765 | April 17, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

Fun reading today, a good example of applying basic grammar rules and how the meanings of words change even if it is a slight nuance. The person, place or thing meaning of "Web" is declining, while it moves to becomong more of a commodity in usage. This has been reflected in the transition from two words to hypenanted word to one compound word.

One thought about the usage of "e-mail" the hypen adds a techie quality to the word, like those company logos that use square brakets, asteriks etc. it feels vaguely like a computer language construct which is probably grammatically exciting. As sending e-mail becomes more and more common (if it hasn't already) the newness wears off, the exotic hyphen becomes less exotic, users capitulate and start using the more prosaic and less expensive "email."

Posted by: jhtlag1 | April 17, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Discussions of this ilk have been violently contested since language began, along with serious considerations as to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Style manual writers have a job to do, and are necessary for us to clearly understand what all of you reporters and columnists are on about, but, really!

Posted by: Geezer4 | April 17, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I just wanted to point out that in fact most people DO combine two noun phrases into one word on a regular basis in the English language. They are called compound nouns. Some very simple examples are: baseball, basketball, and toothpaste. I believe you should have learned this lesson in grammar school.

Posted by: greenmansf | April 17, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Yes that pun was intended, but I could not get this website to accept the quotes I put around grammar.

Posted by: greenmansf | April 17, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I have always used website with lowercase 'w'. When I am online, sometimes I write just site which can mean either website or blog. A few years ago, I read about it in an article by a professor in UCLA. So a site online always is a website or a blog. Website is mostly static and of course blog is dynamic so far as the content. So then I would agree with AP because that's what I think too. Technically, which most of us don't see, the companies tend to come to a consensus. But writing the word 'website' one way or another will always be controversial.

Posted by: wysiwyg4 | April 17, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Nitpickers of the world unite! Rob's earthshaking question poses a vast opportunity to give public display to human brilliance.

Posted by: lienkirk | April 17, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"Web site" is a throwback to days when people talked about the World Wide Web. I like the change to "website."

I still like Internet capitalized, though. I go with the rationale that it's a specific thing, with its own rules and procedures.

Posted by: pundito | April 17, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

My WordPerfect spell checker approves of website.

Posted by: sage5 | April 17, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

website is the way to go...writing Web site is like writing to-day for today, in other words an anachronism

Posted by: RobRoy1 | April 17, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Taking a moment to don my crufty `I helped invent the URL' hat for a minute, I'll say that when I read "Web site" in a sentence, I infer ignorance. The word is "website" and it's only foolish pedants who're unwilling to use new words who ever write `Web site' in a sentence. Look at it, the capitalization is wrong to start with. The word "Web" is not a proper noun like someone's name. The web is a word that is an exclusionary subset of the whole of the internet. Whole heaping piles of the internet have nothing to do with websites. Using a capitalized form of the word "internet" is nearly always incorrect based on a technical basis alone, much less that such stylistic pedantry should have a grounding in technological fact, not some ignorant dimwit's idea of what they want to be correct usage.

So, when anyone, at the AP or elsewhere, uses Web site instead of website, I automatically think they are attempting to convey technical expertise that they do not possess. I don't think about what a liberal arts major might decide to think is correct language.

Speaking as the first person to ever run an httpd inside the .mil domain amongst other firsts, I feel rather safe in saying that people who have used the words "Web site" instead of "website" have been just plain wrong all along.

Nice of AP to finally grow a clue. It's only taken them nearly 20 years of pathetic, and nearly intolerable willful ignorance to get here. I suggest the rest of you join them.

Posted by: Nymous | April 17, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

No strong feelings either way about capitalizing Web (personally, I generally do), or one word versus two. It would obviously be silly to capitalize it as one word. However, if in a previous sentence, one has referred to a particular Web site/website, I believe it is permissible to later refer to that "site" without the W/web. For instance, "When I tried to log in to the Washington Post Web site, I could not get the site to accept my password."

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | April 17, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

That's not the question. The question is, how do you spell e-mail? On most handheld keyboards, and the iPad, you have to press two keys to get the hyphen. This is making me contemplate giving it up.

Posted by: danjose | April 17, 2010 6:23 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't bother me either way. I guess I just go with whatever Microsoft Word doesn't underline as misspelled :) Rob, though, looking at your photo, are you even old enough to know what Gopher is? (maybe you got started early in life like I did)

J

Posted by: josephdurnal | April 17, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

I'm so used to typing "Web site" because of the AP Stylebook that it will be a hard habit to change. In my last gig as an editor, I had a student criticize my editorial use of "Web site" instead of website in a publication because they were being instructed to go with the latter versus the former in their classes. I'd prefer to honor precedent as The Post will--but as time passes, I believe we will all probably have to migrate to "website."

Posted by: fedup12 | April 17, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

I like "Web site" and have always used it in my nonprofit organization's communications. Rather than follow the AP Stylebook I'll wait for the OED or other well-regarded English language dictionary to make a switch. Not to slam the 4th estate, but remember that the elimination of the serial comma was the result of a desire to make more efficient use of lead type. In other words, it was for the convenience of the industry rather than greater clarity. I understand and appreciate the evolutionary nature of language and believe the Internet has probably accelerated a number of language and usage changes. That doesn't mean these changes are always desirable.

Posted by: griot1 | April 17, 2010 8:17 PM | Report abuse

As a programmer, sometimes-sysadmin, software designer, I've never capitalized Web, but I do so with Internet. I wonder why 'nymous' states that is technically wrong. I notice some spell checkers (spellcheckers?) flag website and let web site pass. We don't write telephonenumber or tvstation, by the way, so why does a site on the web get concatenated? Now if we could get some consensus on whether it's log in, login, log on, or logon! (verb form, not noun).

Posted by: hitpoints | April 17, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Using capitals on "Web" is a derivative of the marketing term "World Wide Web" (WWW) which was nothing more than marketing & a term made up to sell something technical to non-technical people. By using a capital for it, identity & importance was conferred that really did not exist.

The web of internet sites serving content from services on ports 80 & 443 are largely not related to each other beyond the use of the technology used to vend the content.

As to the sign on words, "login" is present tense, "logon" is past tense. Neither should be capitalized, and separation of "log" and "on" is a complete misspelling. The term "login" comes from the fact that when someone signs into a system a log entry is written to a file. It is a combination of those two words which reflects the whole of action & result. Examples are "Please login", and "once you are done with the logon process and are logged in" (ahh notice that separation, also correctly stated)... Because these can get a bit awkward, and so many people are confused, "authenticate" an "authentication" get used more because they're slightly easier to use & understand. As well as in some cases more technically accurate, as in the case of the use of tokens & passwords.

We all might have ended up using a different word, but the code to do this was written in a file named "login.c", so that's what it's called forevermore due to an at the time an intolerance of spaces in the Unix filesystem for file names.

I couldn't make these things up if I tried... They are what they are.

Posted by: Nymous | April 18, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

I think both work, we need to worry about grammar more than capitalization. In a former life I was an editor, so when I have a Q like this I go to the Chicago Manual of Style, so I've been following their guidance on this one for years:

"'Web site' for formal writing, but 'website' for informal writing or friendly writing."

PS - The CMoS was no help on "mike" v. "mic."

Posted by: ReadingTub | April 18, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

As a former editor of a magazine I choose "website" for common usage when referring to a site on the Web. It flows better and also works best in the spoken language. As for "mike" vs. "mic", my dictionary says that "mike" is a word used as code for the letter "M" in radio communication and "mic" is a shortened version of the word "microphone".

Posted by: john_in_dallas | April 18, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

"Web site" is not really a two-noun phrase — it doesn't refer to a thing that is both a web and a site. "Web" here is a noun used as an adjective, so it's an adjective-noun phrase. It's normal for commonly used adjective-noun phrases to fuse into one word (though often this takes a very long time). I'm thinking of a word like "yellowjacket", though that's not a great example since a yellowjacket is most certainly not a yellow jacket.

As for the capitalization, I'd always heard that had to do with a trademark or something. It always felt odd, but I did it so as not to fall afoul of spellcheckers or my company's marketing department.

As to login and logon, I would call them variations on the same thing — like how most of the country "stands in line" while in NY they "stand on line".

BUT: "login" and "logon" are nouns or adjectives. ("What's your login"; "Go to the login screen".) The verb forms are "log in" and "log on". They are what's called separable phrasal verbs; you need that space there so you can say things like, "Log yourself in".

Past test: "logged in", "logged on".

I think I prefer "mic", no period, to "mike" or "mic.". Not that I would spell "bike" as "bic"...

Any thoughts on email vs. e-mail? I'm ambivalent.

Posted by: tonybreed | April 19, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

If you want to see how long and passionate this kind of nitpicking can get, go to Wikipedia's discussion pages:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Website
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:E-mail

@nymous: I always thought that login and logon were totally synonymous. And I am pretty damn sure that they go back to first time-sharing systems, in the mid-sixties -- that would predate Unix or C. I have the gray hair for this.

And where do you get the idea that logon is past tense? It's either a noun or an adjective, which cannot have tense.

Posted by: SoloOwl | April 21, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

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