1. the Web: a very large collection of documents, pictures, sounds etc stored on computers in many different places and connected through the internet
2. a net of thin threads that a spider makes in order to catch insects
3. a complicated set of related things, often considered to be dangerous or difficult to deal with
Origin and usage
Web comes from an Old English word of Germanic origin that originally meant woven fabric. The spider’s web meaning was used in Old English, while the first examples of figurative uses date from the beginning of the 15th century. The computing meaning was first used in 1991.
The first documented reference to the World Wide Web came in a 1991 newsgroup posting by Tim Berners-Lee, who referred to the entity he had invented two years earlier as a ‘world consist[ing] of documents and links’. In the same posting he referred to this new entity as ‘the web‘, a use that soon took off, though often spelled with a capital letter as in the Macmillan Dictionary definition.
A comparison of corpus data for this word before and after 1991 is startling. Before 1991, citations of the word web referred exclusively to the networks of threads spun by spiders, to objects that resembled these, or to figurative webs, of deceit, lies, obligations and so on. In corpora compiled since 1991 these literal and figurative uses are hard to find, as they have been drowned out by references to the World Wide Web and the many compounds formed using it: web site, page, browser and the like. Sir Tim can scarcely have imagined when he coined the term the degree to which it would overtake other ancient meanings of the word or the speed with which this would happen.
“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive.”
“Laws are spider webs through which the big flies pass and the little ones get caught.”
(Honoré de Balzac)
“When something is such a creative medium as the web, the limits to it are our imagination.”
Web 2.0, Web 3.0, the internet