Dear Writers: “E-Mail” Has A Hyphen

From Washington Post copy chief Bill Walsh’s excellent blog, The Slot:

The problem with “e-mail” is that it’s not a simple compound noun. It’s an initial-letter-based abbreviation, and no initial-letter-based abbreviation in the history of the English language has ever morphed into a solid word. The “e” isn’t simply a syllable — it’s the letter e, for Chrissakes, like the X in “X-ray.” Nobody lives in an “aframe,” nobody drives a “zcar,” and you will find no example parallel to the illiteracism “email.” “Email” (the French word for “enamel,” by the way) divorces the e, ee, eee! so that the first syllable begs to be a schwa sound. Uhmail. Uh.

Prairie dog is with Walsh on this one. Dissenting writers are ordered to surrender immediately. No more “email” in this paper. No! Bad!

For further reading I recommend Walsh’s book Lapsing Into A Comma. It’s very good. And really funny.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth was carried to Regina in a swarm of bees. He's been with Prairie Dog since May 1999 and will die at his keyboard before admitting his career a terrible, terrible mistake.

23 thoughts on “Dear Writers: “E-Mail” Has A Hyphen”

  1. I try to mostly roll with “e-mail” in my writing, if only because that’s where Canadian Press style lands on the issue. But there is an argument for “email,” since that’s becoming the colloquial usage. Plus, my Oxford Reference has it down that way.

    I have a feeling this’ll be an Internet/internet thing, where the colloquial usage will win out over time.

  2. but the hyphen makes it such an ugly word. Look at it, e-mail, it’s lopsided, it’s affectedly precious, it’s smirking at me. I’d soon write out “electronic mail” than “e-mail”. Ugh. Another example of the trussed up grammatical correctness that’s ruining the world.

  3. I’m with Emmet. E-mail is ugly.

    And I think you and Walsh are swimming upstream on this one. I’ll wager it won’t even be five years before the OED embraces “email.”

  4. The Carillon rolls with “email”, I know this much.

    It’s true that the hyphen clearly sets apart the prefix, but “e-mail” seems kind of antiquated somehow. Writing it makes me feel like I’m old and losing touch but desperately trying to understand these new “electronic mails”, I believe they’re called?

    It feels like writing “tele-vision” or “type-writer” (not that those were ever acceptable forms, but whatever).

  5. Also, what’s up with this?
    “Email” (the French word for “enamel,” by the way) divorces the e, ee, eee!
    Isn’t the e in enamel (commonly) pronounced exactly the same as the e in email? I’m calling total bullschwa on this.

  6. I heard a rumour the latest issue of CP Caps and Spelling did away with the hyphen in e-mail. But I don’t have the latest edition so I’m unable to confirm.

  7. The point is, Emmet, that in common usage, “cooperate” is no longer hyphenated; I’m chiming in with James, Paul and Mason, here.

  8. Here’s the thing: if you keep spelling it “email,” CP stylebooks WILL change it to email.


  9. I didn’t realize cooperative was no longer hyphenated. My local food co-op still hyphenates, as does the local housing co-op federation. But if that’s how the Coops are doing it in Saskatchewan…
    That’s a bad one to let slide, since it drastically changes the way you scan the word.
    I hope Vi-Co is still hyphenated.

  10. I have the 19th edition of The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling Guide. Since 2009 it has recommended “email”. The newest AP guide also recommends email, from what Twitter told me a few months ago.

    Emmett: Long live Vi-Co!

    Also, according to my guide, co-operate and co-operation is the correct usage, but it does not list co-operative or cooperative. It does, however, list the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF of course), and co-ordinate.

  11. None of you lazy posers have rebutted Walsh’s “uhmail” argument. Also, my Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s a little old (2001 edition) but it uses the hyphen. And CP follows the COD. Anyone have a newer COD?

    In any case you will not change this editor’s mind. I will defend that hyphen with the vigour of a madman who spells “connection” with an “x”. Hyphen stays.

  12. “None of you lazy posers have rebutted Walsh’s “uhmail” argument.”

    Emmet did. See #7.

  13. @7 I say enamel “ih-nammal”. Not Eeeee-namal. And what’s the “E” in enamel short for, again? “Electronic”?

    Oh that’s right–“electronic” is the one for the “E” in “e-mail”.

  14. Hey if you don’t mind that every time your readers come across the word “e-mail” they’re going step back and arch an eyebrow, go for it. Me? My prose ain’t so deathless that I can afford such a jarring, attention-breaking abomination as “e-mail”. So from now on, when you see me write about receiving a fax, you know I mean “e-mail” (or email).

  15. I accept this conditionally. As in, I’m okay with the hyphen, as long as the plural form of e-mail is “e-mailz”…

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