Little Things Mean a LotSometimes the decisions that copy editors worry about seem astounding. How can what seem like small problems generate such heat? The latest one to startle me is the extensive Internet discussion about whether the word e-mail (email?) should be written with or without a hyphen. Fortunately for us here at Style, the Associated Press Stylebook states firmly that the word is e-mail. No explanation, no hyperventilation.
But the discussion is far from over.
As far back as 1996, the style book of Wired magazine was explaining that there should be no hyphen. The editors opined: "We know from experience that new terms often start as two words, then become hyphenated, and eventually end up as one word." These editors say that it's time to write e-mail solid.
E-mail is written with a hyphen because it stands for electronic mail, and other words in our language words that start out with such a hyphen often morph into one word without one.
There are plenty of self-anointed authorities who think e-mail has already done just this. The editors of Media Post's site, which describes itself as "The Inside Line on email Marketing," have stated categorically that there should be no hyphen in email. And a blog I found uses this scare tactic: "The popular sentiment is clearly swaying toward the elimination of the hyphen and we should hasten it on its way. All you publishers out there need to revise your style guides -- and quickly before we exhaust the world's supply of hyphens."
This point of view is affirmed by the new book "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home" by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. It is reviewed by Janet Malcolm in the September New York Review of Books, and in her whole article there is not a glimpse of e-mail written with a hyphen.
AP will probably have to change its rule. Meanwhile, I'm just grateful that e-mail works, and I don't stay awake nights wondering if it has a hyphen.
Department of Strange Adverbs?"West Nile virus can be very fatal." Heard on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" Friday, Sept. 5.
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