I was very pleased to read today in this post on Poynter Online that the Associated Press Stylebook (the style manual used by most newspapers and journalists) is finally changing from Web site to website. This change now appears in the AP Stylebook Online and will be in the printed 2010 AP Stylebook.
It’s about time, as common usage long ago moved to website, a fact acknowledged by Bryan Garner in his excellent 2009 third edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage:
website. One word, lowercase. But some stylesheets and dictionaries specify Web site (a clunker). When Web stands alone, it is capitalized. Cf. World Wide Web.
The New York Times, which has long had its own rather idiosyncratic style rules (see my 2009 post on the subject), uses Web site, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to do so long after everyone else has abandoned it.
Here’s what the Chicago Manual of Style Online says about the issue:
Q. Which is currently accepted: Web site, web site, website, or Website?
A. A lot of people are writing “website.” A lot of people have come to prefer “website.” But formal usage still calls for “Web site,” in recognition of the initiatives of the World Wide Web Consortium (write “Web-site” as an adjective). The most elaborately formal modern American publication I can think of, the New Yorker, still writes “Web site,” but then again, they also write “E-mail,” “coördinate,” and “reëxamine”—they are very particular. We at Chicago are very particular too, and we recommend “Web site.” But our press as a whole is not in the position of publishing a single, unified publication—such as a magazine. It is easier to apply a set of standard rules and never vary from them for one publication, but rules applying to all sorts of books, articles, and other writing must be a little more flexible. Moreover, when a word gets used a lot it tends to lose any awkward edges (and what could be more awkward than a compound formed of one capitalized word and one lowercased word?). Each new book that appears on the scene presents an opportunity for an author to express a usage preference or to demonstrate a familiarity with changing usage.
But generally, I would recommend “Web site” for formal writing, but “website” for informal writing or friendly writing. Unless, of course, you prefer “Web site” even when you’re being friendly.
It’s a fact that style and usage change over time, though it often takes time to filter up to the guardians of language. One of the things I really like about the new edition of Garner is that he includes a “Language-Change Index” to “measure how widely accepted various linguistic innovations have become.” His Index has five stages:
Stage 1: A new form emerges as an innovation (or a dialectal form persists) among a small minority of the language community, perhaps displacing a traditional usage.
Stage 2: The form spreads to a significant fraction of the language community but remains unacceptable in standard usage.
Stage 3: The form becomes commonplace even among many well-educated people but is still avoided in careful usage.
Stage 4: The form becomes virtually universal but is opposed on cogent grounds by a few linguistic stalwarts….
Stage 5: The form is universally accepted (not counting pseudo-snoot eccentrics).
For example, email for e-mail is in Stage 4, and he explains in detail in the entry:
e-mail; E-mail; email. The first is the prevalent form in print sources. The letter e–short for electronic–is sometimes capitalized, but the trend is to make it lowercase. The unhyphenated email is unsightly, but it might prevail in the end. In print sources, e-mail is five times as common as email. Ultimately, the hyphen may well disappear–since that is what midword hyphens tend to do–but for the time being it is more than holding its own.
Of course the reason e-mail is much more common in print sources is that the style manuals used by print publications specify that as the correct usage.
Update, 8/6/10: See my new blog post, “A comparison of how the new style manuals treat tech words.”
Update, 3/18/11: AP has just dropped the hyphen from “e-mail.”