"e-mail" vs. "email" - Wired declares style guidelines (again)
October 23, 2000 10:46 AM   Subscribe

"e-mail" vs. "email" - Wired declares style guidelines (again) - so in today's Wired News (lycos.wired.com, not wired magazine), there's a long explanatory article about a change in Wired News' style standards. A) do declarations from Wired News matter much anymore? B) is "e-mail" really 'more proper' than "email". To me, the hyphen looks amateurish and silly, but I'm too close to this to be objective.
posted by kokogiak (42 comments total)
A three-page article on an in-house style change involving one word? I look forward to more thrilling coverage when Wired decides whether to precede the word "and" with a comma in a list of three or more items.
posted by rcade at 10:53 AM on October 23, 2000

This story has been rehashed over and over again. Personally, I believe "e-mail" is more proper than "email." E-mail is a compound word made from "electronic" and "mail" thus by placing them together, a hyphen is warranted.

Besides, I wouldn't get to do the editorial smackdown on people I edit if "email" became proper ;)
posted by bkdelong at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2000

Aren't there lots of compound words that originally had a hyphen but no longer do? My mind is blank at the moment though. Examples?
posted by gluechunk at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2000

I've always thought of e-mail as more of a contraction than a compound word, since it is removing the letters required to finish the word "electronic". With that in mind, perhaps we should use e'mail. ;)
posted by trox at 11:21 AM on October 23, 2000

I'm going to use my I-mac to get on-line and send e-mail now. No, I won't. I prefer email!
posted by gluechunk at 11:27 AM on October 23, 2000

I wonder what the folks at Wired will think of to-morrow?
posted by snarkout at 11:34 AM on October 23, 2000

What's all the fuss about any-how? Good-night.
posted by ethmar at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2000

Just noticed an extensive, somewhat more animated thread on this same thing on slashdot - here.
posted by kokogiak at 11:42 AM on October 23, 2000

associated press style calls for e-mail. and it drove me crazy every time i had to post something that included that bastard of a word. i prefer email.

and after spell checking, spellchecker.net doesn't like email.
posted by sugarfish at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2000

Save bandwidth. Omit needless hyphens. :)

posted by Mars Saxman at 11:56 AM on October 23, 2000

Bah, humbug. "EE mail" is harder to prounounce than "EEM ale." "email" is more reflective of how people actually say the word than "e-mail."
posted by grimmelm at 11:56 AM on October 23, 2000

Grimmelm, you're right. Hyphenation in this case (as with e-commerce) is not merely because of the compound word (we don't use "bed-room" after all) but also a clue to pronunciation. In most English-language cases, an "e" in the beginning of a word becomes a schwa. Any linguists in the house today?
posted by mimi at 12:02 PM on October 23, 2000

So, let's say you wanted to fuse the words "electronic" and "enterprise". Please don't do this, but for the purpose of this example, imagine you're sick in the head enough to harbour such a concept. Now, would you make it into "e-enterprise"? Or would you make it into "eenterprise"?

It's spelled e-mail. No question about it.

Also, I whole-heartedly endorse anything that makes the world talk more like T. Herman Zweibel.
posted by Succa at 12:26 PM on October 23, 2000

Succa, I hate to throw an ugly example of your thinking out there, but I just saw this and it made me cringe nonetheless: Hewlett Packard's homepage (or should that be 'home-page') has a link to a project site of theirs called "e-inclusion". Although that's arguably better than "einclusion", it still just rubs me the wrong way.
posted by kokogiak at 12:35 PM on October 23, 2000

Personally I use "e-mail" for reasons stated in the article and in some of the comments above. I used to edit for a living, and we editors have to be anal about using "official" words like that. I just thank the powers that be that we don't have to spell out the words "electronic mail".

As for pronunciation? Bah! If we spell our words based on their pronunciation, we'll have to seriously rethink the words rough, bough, cough, though, through, and dough; we might as well also forego the use of you're instead of your, or to instead of two or too. Oh, and never mind about the words "c u later!"

I think the article was correct in guessing that some programmer simply got lazy and started using "email" -- not that I'm knocking lazy programmers, mind you; I think laziness in programmers is actually a virtue since it makes them more efficient with their code. In a case like this "email" would seem to be the proper word in code, but not necessarily in the written English language; otherwise "lastModified" would be correct in English, too.

But who says you have to stop writing "email" in your "e-mail"? If it's not for print or for some high-brow web publishing, stick with what's comfortable for you. There is such a thing as a colloquial form of language, and if your primary purpose is communication then all you have to worry about is being understood.
posted by aprilgem at 12:51 PM on October 23, 2000

IMHO, "e-mail" is an anal, regressive, and ill-conceived attempt to artificially inhibit the natural way in which language evolves. English has been trending away from the use of hyphens for over a century (don't believe me? read unadulterated texts written 40 or more years ago), and it seems to me that this is a good thing. Punctuation should serve a purpose, and I fail to see what useful purpose the hyphen in "e-mail" serves. Do we really CARE that "email" was originally constructed from "electronic" and "mail"? Any more than we are terribly concerned that "bookends" originally was "book + ends," or with any of countless other examples? It is a word in its own right now. Deal with it. Move on.

I vote for "email."
posted by rushmc at 1:03 PM on October 23, 2000

I wonder if the MLA has this covered? Does anyone have an MLA style manual handy?
posted by Dean_Paxton at 1:03 PM on October 23, 2000

I consider proper usage e-mail, but I use email. 'Cause I'm one of those lazy programmers everyone keeps talking about.

I also use 'cause, and gotta, and other grammatically incorrect, phonetic-sounding words when typing. Rather than being just an expression of clear grammar ability, I also use my online representation (text text and only text) to y'know, indicate a li'l sumpin' sumpin' 'bout who I am. :-)

posted by cCranium at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2000

Well, there are a number of Style Guides through the Ifla site. I notice that in a number of APA Guides, people use "E-mail" though what they recommend is the phrase "personal communication" rather than "e-mail" with or without a dash. In "Beyond the MLA Handbook" the authors appear to recommend the dash.

Personally I find the dash rather upsetting and would never use it in any "personal communication" to someone for whom I had any respect.
posted by leo at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2000

My fingers are lazy, to type it "e-mail" I have to go all the way up to that dreaded top row for the hyphen and then back to the bottom for the m. I'll stick to email, thank you. Am I the only one who thinks it's funny that they use the word "reportage" in the article.
posted by Nothing at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2000

I think what we are seeing here is a split between descriptive and prescriptive (or, if you prefer, proscriptive) grammarians. The first group seeks to describe what language does; the second, to impose rules that language users must follow.

As CEO of grammarguerrilla.com (going live RSN), I'm firmly in the first camp. If information wants to be free, doesn't it make sense that it would also want to be freely expressed, in the most clear and communicative fashion possible?
posted by rushmc at 1:55 PM on October 23, 2000

One publication I write for mandates that not only is the hyphen required, the "e" must be captialized. The publisher had some justification for it which boiled down to "It looks wrong to me any other way so that's how we'll do it at my publication."

In personal writing I usually use "e-mail."
posted by kindall at 3:31 PM on October 23, 2000

Great. In reading this thread not only did I twice question, and ultimately fall back upon, my usual spelling of email, but I discovered that my MLA is nowhere to be found! Thanks. Thanks a lot, gang.

I can say, however, that no less a source than the Oxford Dictionary of Current English (2nd ed, 1992!) lists a definition for email with (also e-mail) in parentheses. I find it interesting that such an early source would have already dropped the hyphen from their main listing.

In our style guide at work (we're publishers of lots and lots of original content) we use email. In addition, at my old job at CTHEORY we used email - though that was because I wrote the style guide.
posted by mikel at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2000

I'm surprised anyone would be thrown by seeing either email or e-mail in personal correspondence. Hey, you know what's being written about, right?

For editors, though, I can see why copy consistency is important. Believe it or not, it's probably not at heart a fascistic plot (least I hope not). I think editorial consistency actually exists to aid the reader. After all, no writer or editor wants a user to wonder about the mechanics if it means drawing attention from what's important -- the intended message.

Readers shouldn't stop to wonder why a word is arbitrarily spelled two different ways in one publication anymore than users should wonder why nav elements are styled two different ways in one site.

Consistency often leads to invisibility. In terms of the mechanics of communication, this isn't always a bad thing.
posted by bilco at 6:05 PM on October 23, 2000

Consistency often leads to invisibility

perhaps that's often true, but that hyphen is far from invisible -- indeed it nearly screams "I don't write email; I write about it."
posted by sudama at 6:15 PM on October 23, 2000

I know what you mean. It's probably not invisible to you and me, for whatever reason, or we wouldn't be writing all this.

But I'm not sure all writers of e-mail/email always fall down on the side of email as opposed to e-mail. I'm guessing many people for who this isn't really an issue -- those who use e-mail/email occasionally at work or only for writing friends and relatives -- could be using one spelling just as well as the other. Most of them couldn't care less which spelling is used. I think for these folks, the inconsistent use within one publication would stand out more than either spelling in itself would.

I could be wrong.
posted by bilco at 6:30 PM on October 23, 2000

so i guess it comes down to who the audience for Wired News is supposed to be. i guess they lost the hardcore tech crowd a couple years back... as far as i'm concerned this move pretty much destroys any remaining credibility they may have had.
posted by sudama at 6:39 PM on October 23, 2000

I agree with Mars on this one--save bandwidth and lose the hyphen!
posted by grank at 7:26 PM on October 23, 2000

Did I misread the article? It was my take that they were not trying to impose consistency but rather to replace a previous dictum ("email") with a new one ("e-mail"). I would agree that consistency is appropriate and important for a publication; I simply think that they should be consistently RIGHT. ;)
posted by rushmc at 9:11 PM on October 23, 2000

Lessee... Brian Kernighan uses "email" in a course syllabus, but Dennis Ritchie uses "e-mail" in an essay. Hm. So much for the definitive geek contingent. (If you don't know why Kernighan and Ritchie are the definitive geeks, you aren't one yourself.)

Altavista lists 41 million uses of "e-mail", and 38.6 million uses of "email".

I dunno, guys... Looks like neither geekiness nor widespread usage of either form is the determining factor.

However: I look forward to more thrilling coverage when Wired decides whether to precede the word "and" with a comma in a list of three or more items.

That one's pretty much settled. Consider this oft-cited example of the wrong way to do it: "I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God."


posted by aurelian at 10:33 PM on October 23, 2000

posted by Zeldman at 12:42 AM on October 24, 2000

It's definitely eMail! ;-)
posted by FAB4GIRL at 1:13 AM on October 24, 2000

oh and uhh... i have the 14th edition of the chicago manual of style and this topic isn't even listed. (copyright date 1993)

im going to talk to my copyediting professor about this.
posted by sugarfish at 1:32 AM on October 24, 2000



posted by cardboard at 4:29 AM on October 24, 2000

That one's pretty much settled. Consider this oft-cited example of the wrong way to do it: "I'd like to thank my parents, Ayn Rand and God."

Well sure, it's wrong, unless the speaker is actually the offspring of the Almighty and Ms. Rand.
posted by dcehr at 8:04 AM on October 24, 2000

...unless the speaker is actually the offspring of the Almighty and Ms. Rand.

Assuming, of course, that Ms. Rand is not, in fact, God. If she is God, then apparently the speaker sprouted fully formed from her head. Positively Zeusian in its implications...

posted by bilco at 11:31 AM on October 24, 2000

Yes, Zeldman, but part of the problem is not the compounding of words per se, but compounding them while also abbreviating one. Which is comparatively rare.

For example: Stockholm's subway, which has the full name of "Tunnelbana", but goes by "t-bana".

Or how about U-Boat? V-Chip? C-Clamp?

Or C-SPAN, which is particularly odd because it breaks an acronym for pronunication purposes.

I can easily see an alternate universe where "telephone" became "t-phone" -- and a future where "video phone" becomes "v-phone".

cardboard: yes, that's a good list, and also points out the pattern.
posted by aurelian at 1:09 PM on October 24, 2000

How dare you curse this upstanding web-log, the Meta-filter!

posted by Succa at 1:37 PM on October 24, 2000

I heart Zweibel too.

The comment upthread about C-SPAN splitting itself for pronunciation purposes took me into a netherworld of acronymical pronunciations I've adopted, only to later realize they were, in fact, incorrect. Take for example the clothing line "DKNY", (and I refuse to place that comma before the quotation, grammargods) which I always pronounced "dee-ken-nee" but later found was to be pronounced D-K-N-Y, sounding out each letter. I liked my way better.

We run into this a lot at work, where we have acronymic department and programs like CRDEUL (which I pronounced "cred-yule" for years before being told that no, it's supposed to be "sir-duel") and BPRO which switched to BHRO which then took on a distinctly germanic throatiness and made the speaker sound like she needed a lozenge when she pronounced it. Interesting stuff.

My apologies; it seems I have incurred a swath of topic-drift.
posted by evixir at 10:05 PM on October 24, 2000

OED sez "email", citing usage from 1982. That'll do for me. Just be thankful that you're not one of the sad corral that comes under the heading "copyedit". Or is that "copy-edit"?
posted by holgate at 10:09 PM on October 24, 2000

It suddenly occurred to me that the proper spelling of the word is, quite simply, "mail." Just as you must say "acoustic guitar" today when formerly "guitar" sufficed, you must say "paper mail" or "snail mail" today if your mail is not electronic.

posted by kindall at 11:34 PM on October 24, 2000

*whammo* - Kindall, you nailed it. Or am I the only person who consistantly does use the word "mail" (in swedish as an action "maila") for E-mail/email and snailmail for that stuff that goes via envelopes?
posted by dabitch at 9:29 AM on October 27, 2000

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