It’s a “website”, dammit!

I don’t care what the currently established rules of grammar and spelling say.

Yes, yes, I know. The ‘proper’ spelling is to use two words, adjective specifier and then noun: Web Site. What kind of a ‘Site’? One pertaining to the ‘Web’. Thus a ‘Web Site’. With a space in between. This is how the modern rules of grammar insist we spell website. Many linguists apparently have already met in their secret conclaves, colleges of grammatical Cardinals all, and pouring out on the white smoke arose the papal decision revealed from on high… ‘web site’ it is, ‘web site’ it would have been before had we known about the web, and therefore ‘web site’ it will always be.

No thank you on the extra space. I was a Spanish major as an undergrad and I’m a writer by calling if not by profession.  I completely understand the logic and reasoning behind ‘Web Site’ as two words. I get it.

And yet, I disagree.

Dictionaries and Grammars: Prescriptive or Reflective?

I subscribe to a rather different viewpoint, from a conceptual point of view. First, I believe that dictionaries and grammars are ultimately reflective, not prescriptive. That is, the rules of grammar, spelling, or definitions do not get handed down by what is written in the rule books. The rule books do not prescribe the rules from some sort of absolute authority or red phone to the capital-T Truth. If this were the case, why would we ever need to reprint the dictionary or release annual updated editions?

Instead, the dictionary and the grammatical rule books are written to describe what is held as common usage and commonplace understanding within the culture. It reflects what is already there. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not and never has been reflective of the entire culture or cultures using the language. There’s a certain amount of exclusion and intellectual snobbery involved. Remember the kerfluffle over the very concept of ‘Ebonics’ in the 90’s? As multiculturalism gained credence we suddenly were confronted with the notion that other subcultural groups would also have valid need for their speech and language patterns to be included in the rulebooks as well. The fact that these more controversial elements were attached to minority groups should also provide a context for how I mean that the dictionary and the grammar books are not a perfect mirror, although they do primarily reflect, not prescribe.

Why ‘website’ instead

I believe that a website is a unique entity conceptually. The influence of the world wide web introduced an entirely new paradigm in communications, and if you change someone’s communication patterns you force a change in how they ultimately think. This new unit within the new communication style is really a conceptual entity divorced from the language of geography. After all, if a ‘site’ is a location, where is the web site? It can “be” on several computers in many locations globally simultaneously. And yet it is located only in the sense of where the original code is stored. Given the ability now with Clouds and Content Delivery Networks, there’s even some diffusion of any single geographical location for the source code now, too.

Given that the web is now a unique cultural medium of communication which had no equivalent prior to the development of the internet, and given the lack of overall relevance which geography continues to play on the retrieval of the information (there’s even cracks in the Great Firewall of China), I personally think it’s time we recognized the paradigm shift with a change in semantics as well.

Language shifts and changes over time. Once upon a time, you wiped your mouth at dinner with a ‘napron’. Slowly it became an ‘apron’ instead, with the leading ‘n’ shifting over to become ‘an’, and the word jumped to the front of the dictionary by now starting with ‘a’. I think that it makes sense to call a collection of related content pages on the web a ‘website’.

Save the extra space. Embrace the new paradigm. If nothing else, it’ll make your copy editors twitch.


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