How the Internet is like the Verrazano Bridge

060916blog verrazano bridge
Wikipedia (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

No, the Internet has not become a series of bridges; it remains a series of tubes.

The Internet is like the Verrazano Bridge in that there are moves afoot – ill-advised moves -- to change how each entity is represented through the written word.

In the case of the Internet, the influential Associated Press and its indefatigable style disciples have already decreed that the word Internet should no longer be capitalized. Many news organizations and journalists are meekly complying by demoting the Internet to the internet. As you can see, I am refusing to fall in line.

Meanwhile, in New York City, nitpicky petitioners are demanding that the Verrazano Bridge – North America’s longest such span – be renamed the Verrazzano Bridge. OK, fine, renaming may be oversating the case; they’re actually demanding the addition of a second “z” in Verrazano, despite the fact that it’s been spelled with only one since the bridge opened in 1964.

The petitioners claim this one-z spelling is a mistake and an affront because the bridge is named after 16th-century Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, whose surname apparently did sport a zippy pair of “z’s.”

However, the fact that the petitioners are factually correct sways neither the keepers of the bridge nor me. Here’s why, according to a story in the New York Daily News:

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say it would simply be too expensive to change all the signs, brochures, maps and websites. Changing the name of New York’s Triborough Bridge to the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2008, for example, reportedly cost the state $4 million.

If taxpayers are going to spend $4 million fixing something on a 50-year-old suspension bridge, let’s start with stuff that might prevent the bridge from falling into New York Harbor. And when we’re done doing that basic safety work on the Verrazano -- and all the other bridges in the country that we’re always told are in danger of falling down -- then we can talk about spelling mistakes.

It’s not worth it.

Which brings us back to the Internet.

I don’t find the case for lowercasing the Internet to be compelling, though it is certainly not completely devoid of merit. You can read more about that case here.

My objection, as with the bridge, is that this change is simply not worth the expense. And while unlike the bridge that expense may be more difficult to quantify, it boils down to tossing aside decades of having trained journalists and the public that the Internet is a proper noun deserving of a proper capital letter. This onrushing of a lowercase internet, absent some kind of massive public relations campaign, will undoubtedly leave readers scratching their heads. “Where are the copy editors?” It will look wrong, primarily but not exclusively because it is wrong.

Besides, before you know it, the Associated Press will have us smashing particles at the large hadron collider.

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