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Last week, I bravely tackled a hot-button issue: the capitalization of internet. This week, I’m putting it all on the line and dealing with an even more contentious issue. That is, how do you spell/punctuate/capitalize e-mail?

From my informal observations, it seems that email (no hyphen, no capitals) is becoming the preferred treatment. This, I argue, is merely the result of laziness and will inevitably result in catastrophe.

So let’s settle this once and for all. Is it email, e-mail, Email or E-mail? *

First Issue: Should it be Capitalized?

This is an easy one. E-mail is a common noun, not a proper noun. So it should not be capitalized (unless of course it appears at the beginning of a sentence, or in title case.)

Second Issue: Do We Need the Hyphen?

This one is much trickier. But I say yes, we need the hyphen. For two reasons.

The first reason is internal consistency. The best rules are those that are easy to apply universally. Though I admit there’s nothing particularly egregious about “email”, we can’t predict what new compound “e-words” will surface in the future. If the second component of any begins with the letter e, then omitting the hyphen will lead to such atrocities as eeduction, eelection, eeconomics, etc. Unthinkable!

If we consistently use the hyphen, however, it will always work. Crisis averted.

The second reason is external consistency. Similar compound words (i.e. those in which the first part is a single letter) retain the hyphen. Consider t-bone, t-shirt and x-ray, and compare them with their (mercifully rare) variants tbone, tshirt and xray.

Yes, I realize that people will omit they hyphen when feeling rushed or lazy, especially on handheld devices. But so what? No sane person would argue that “ur” is preferable to “you are”, even if the former is widely used in text messages. In formal writing — and indeed in most writing — the hyphen is preferred, just like you are.

I vote for e-mail.
* I’ve used e-mail as an example. But the same issue arises with e-commerce. And I’d make the same arguments: e-commerce is the best treatment.


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