2 minutes estimated reading time

Dot as a post came out of me being zoned out and listening to a podcast while shaving as part of my weekend morning routine. Then it hit me whamo! The podcast I was listening to was by CSIS – a US think tank called The Truth of The Matter hosted by Andrew Schwartz.

The Truth of The Matter podcast in Apple’s Podcast app

At the end of the podcast I was listening to, they gave out the web address for the Center for Strategic and International Studies

C-S-I-S dot O-R-G

The Truth of the Matter

The first thing that struck me was ‘dot O-R-G’ rather than ‘dot org’; but then I started to think why wasn’t it period org (or O-R-G) for that matter.

In the UK and Ireland we call the dot at the end of a sentence a ‘full stop’. In the US they call it a period. Which made me wonder how we got to describing email and internet addresses in this way?

The history of top level domains has been well documented, but the history of the linguistics of top level domains hasn’t been.

Top level domain names potted history

What we would recognise as top level domain names like found in URLs and email addresses seems to have come about as part of the ARPANET developed and ran between 1969 and 1990. The Stanford Research Institute was responsible for the HOSTS text file that mapped IP addresses with domain names, it was assisted in this by part of the University of Southern California. It was a small network, so this ad-hoc system worked at the time. This evolved into a database based domain net system (DNS) in 1983, developed by University of Southern California when HOSTS performance started to slow the network down excessively.

Use of ‘dot com’ as a term

Since we are delving back into pre-web times, I used Google Books Ngram tool as a way of understanding the use of the term over time. 1993 was when the term took off.

This clip from NBC’s Today programme sees one of the presenters pause after each domain element rather than say ‘nbc dot ge dot com’

By the time I was watching The Site on my landlord’s cable TV in 1996, Soledad O’Brien, along with her animated co-host Dev Null* were dotting their way through email addresses and URLs like it was perfectly normal.

It’s usage peaked in 2001 and then declined as it became associated with the first internet business related bubble. Other domains such as org and net follow a similar track, but at a much lower volume.

Now the address in written form is enough, or even just a QRcode to be scanned. Oral usage lives on all around us.

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