Tips About 10 Technological Terms

By Mark Nichol

Which tech terms merit capitalization, and which are generic? Which terms are open compounds, and which are treated as one word? Here’s a guide to treatment of some of the most common names for technological phenomena:

1. App: This abbreviation of application has existed for nearly a quarter century but has only recently entered general usage. Few publications bother to use the full term on first reference.

2. E-mail: This abbreviation of “electronic mail” prevails in usage over email. (Note that the e should not be capitalized.) The formal plural is e-mail (or, if you prefer “e-mail messages,” to distinguish the transmissions from the term for the concept); e-mails is the informal plural form. E-book, e-commerce, and associated terms follow the hyphenation style of e-mail.

3. Global Positioning System: This satellite-based navigation system is a specific entity enabled by the US government and is therefore initial capitalized. It is also identified by the abbreviation GPS, which is so ubiquitous that some publications don’t bother to spell the name out on first reference. However, to distinguish between the system and a device that employs it, I recommend using the abbreviation as an adjective in that context — for example, “GPS receiver” — rather than the letters alone.

4. Home page: This term for the page from which all other pages on a website are accessed is generally treated as an open compound, though some publications close it.

5. Initial lowercase letters: Honor initial lowercase letters (iPhone), midcaps (YouTube), and the like, but in the case, so to speak, of the former, avoiding starting a sentence with such aberrant branding gimmicks.

6. In-box: This word for your e-mail program’s main folder for incoming messages, borrowed from the name for a tray on the top of a desk in which papers are delivered to the desk’s occupant, is often hyphenated, though Gmail, at least, treats it as a closed compound, as do some publications.

7. Internet: Some publications, arguing that the Internet is an amorphous network of interconnected computers, lowercase this term, but most treat it as a proper noun — as do organizations that set international standards and maintain technological infrastructure. (However, intranet, which refers to a closed, internal online network — for example, that of a company — is generic.) Some day, though, Internet may, like many other once capitalized terms, be downgraded to generic status.

8. Software names: Capitalize names of all software. Also, when referring to word-processing software, include the brand name — “Microsoft Word,” “Adobe Acrobat,” and so on — at least on first reference.

9. Smartphone: This term for is a mobile phone with sophisticated recording and communication functions is a closed compound.

10. Web: When the word appears by itself to refer to the World Wide Web, or when it appears in open compounds such as “Web page” and “Web host,” retain initial capitalization. When it is the first component of a closed compound (webmaster, website), lowercase it. (You’ll find the latter example as two words, with web capitalized, elsewhere on this site, because I just recently accepted the inevitable and started styling the term in the prevailing form rather than the one long favored by the technorati.)

Also, observe the distinction between the Web and the Internet; the former is but one component of the latter.

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9 Responses to “Tips About 10 Technological Terms”

  • Niall

    Internet is, as you state, a technical term. “The Internet,” capitalised, is the interconnection of a number of networks using the standardised protocols defined by the IETF (IP4, to be replaced in the future by IP6 which some areas already use internally).

    “An internet,” never capitalised, is any interconnected set of networks either using the same protocols throughout or employing bridging technologies to translate data between formats at the boundary edge.

    Consider the capitalised version as a proper noun for the thing we communicate over and the non-capitalised version as a generic term. There is a difference.

  • Jim

    I would argue against hyphenated email and inbox usage. I work in the email marketing industry and have watched email transition from e-mail in the late 90s to both being used to finally email being the most common. I believe email has been accepted by some large publications as the standard over the past couple years. E-Commerce does continue to be hyphenated as well as a few other terms but email is just email. I have never seen anyone write inbox as a hyphenated term.

  • Steve M

    Good article. However, some of these items will be different, depending on what style you are using. For example, “e-mail” is now incorrect if you are working from the Associated Press 2011 Stylebook. They have deteremined that “email” is proper for use in their publications. You should be sure to follow the guidelines that your client adheres to in contract work.

  • Bob Chenoweth

    As always, thanks so much for these topics. I must disagree, however, on the use of “e-mail” over “email”. As Steve M noted, the AP Stylebook favors email, and as an email marketer, I very seldom see “e-mail” in current usage. Also, it was interesting that the subscription and unsubscribe info in the footer of the email regarding this topic used “email” as the form of choice.

  • John White

    @Steve M: Yes, AP style differs from this post on “e-mail/email”. However, it agrees on this post with regard to “Web/web.”

    From the current AP style guide: “Also, website, webcam, webcast and webmaster. But as a short form and in terms with separate words, the Web, Web page and Web feed.”

  • Ian

    Good tips! Is ‘e-mail’ really an accepted plural? I cannot imagine writing ‘he sent twenty e-mail’. Mail on its own has no plural, I believe — is this where the unchanging plural form comes from?

  • Deborah H

    From the men and women who brought it to us: email.

  • Andy Knoedler

    It may well be incorrect in the U.S. not to capitalize Internet. However, my British family members (3 sons and a wife) always lowercase it as internet. This seems to be the standard British practice.

  • Paul Russell

    Words written with initial lower case letters, like iPhone, are usually referred to as camel case … due to the hump in the middle.

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