Thursday, February 28, 2008

Email or E-mail?

I remember reading a while back in Jenna Glatzer's Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer that different publications tend to vary in whether they want it spelled internet or Internet (with a capital I).

Today I started wondering which is the generally accepted spelling for email. (I sometimes start wondering about random things like that. How many other writers do that?)

I typically spell the word email, but apparently by AP standards it should be e-mail. There's an interesting discussion about how to spell email on Wikipedia (see? Wikipedia is good for something!):

Spelling of this term is disputed. Many now regard the word "email" as a perfectly valid and formal word in its own right, and regard the abbreviation "e-mail" as anachronistic. The word "email" is recognized as a valid English word in all major dictionaries[citation needed] however the e-mail abbreviation is often still used. Despite the word "email" being used in common English the computer industry and web sites still use multiple variants of the term.

One of the sources sited for this paragraph explains the historical and linguistic reasons for dropping the hyphen:

Newly coined nonce words of English are often spelled with a hyphen, but the hyphen disappears when the words become widely used. For example, people used to write "non-zero'' and "soft-ware'' instead of "nonzero'' and "software''; the same trend has occurred for hundreds of other words. Thus it's high time for everybody to stop using the archaic spelling "e-mail''.

Excited by my little discovery, I also looked up Web site versus website:

Although "website" and "web site" are commonly used (the former especially in British English), the Associated Press Stylebook, Reuters, Microsoft, academia, book publishing, The Chicago Manual of Style, and dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster use the two-word, initially capitalized spelling Web site. This is because "Web" is not a general term but a shortened form of World Wide Web...

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary and the Canadian Press Stylebook list "website" and "web page" as the preferred spellings. The Oxford English Dictionary began using "website" as its standardized form in 2004.

Once again, one of the sources for the paragraph, advice on AskOxford.com, offers justification for the more progressive spelling:

It always takes a little time for new words to settle to a standardized form. Our most recent dictionary, the revised 11th edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary, published in July 2004, shows website as the standard form, and future dictionaries will reflect this.

We recommend capital initials for Internet, World Wide Web, the Web, but not for individual sites.

I guess I'm pretty progressive (or just British at heart), because I have been using email and website for pretty much my entire writing career. I agree with the opinion that e-mail and Web site are outdated. Hyphenation is usually only used until a compound word becomes a staple of the English language — for instance, tomorrow used to be to-morrow, and blackbird used to be black-bird.

What about you? Do you prefer the more progressive spellings of email and website, or do you stick with the more traditional spellings of e-mail and Web site?


Lori said...

But why is World Wide Web capitalized? I've always wondered that...

I shove it all together. Since the rule books never quite kept up with the changes post-Internet, I went with the shortened versions. Yep, I get why the hyphens are there, but I don't think it's necessary as we all "get" it.

Notice that I capitalized "Internet". That one has stuck. It's always been capped for some reason, so I'm a stickler for that one.

I have such a schizophrenice style. LOL

Lori said...

Or "schizophrenic", as most people would spell it.

Sheesh. I type too fast.

Katharine Swan said...


LOL. I do that too, so don't feel bad. I'm always wishing I could go back and edit all my "idiot errors" out of my comments on other people's blogs.

Like you, I do capitalize Internet -- though I didn't for a long time. I just finally got tired of Word scolding me about it!

I think Internet and World Wide Web are both capitalized because someone, back when the Internet (ha!) was a novelty, decided that they deserved proper names. Or maybe World Wide Web is capitalized because they thought no one would figure out what the "www" was for otherwise.

Who knows. Don't forget, the generation that made this decision is the same one that today asks us for help navigating the Web or checking their email.

Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

I'm an email girl, but I also edit a magazine that adheres to AP Style. So, I'm sometimes overruled on my personal preference. ARG!

Katharine Swan said...


I've had to do that too, not on the spelling of email, but on other things like how many spaces go after a period. (I use the old-fashioned two spaces and that's fine with most clients, but I had one major client who wanted a single space after every period.)


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