From E-mail to Email: Is the Sky Falling?

One of the most tweeted updates to The Chicago Manual of Style in the recently released 17th edition was its change in the recommended spelling of email: no more hyphen. On the whole, the reaction of users was favorable—even celebratory—maybe because so many of us had already stopped typing that extra character.

The change does not sit well with everyone, however. In emails and via social media some have asked, If it’s email, is it also ebook, ecommerce, ereader? And if not, won’t there be inconsistency?

Reasonable questions!

First, over the last few years the editors at Chicago have watched influential dictionaries and style guides move to email, including Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, The Oxford English Dictionary, The Associated Press Stylebook, the New York Times, Apple, Microsoft, Google, and probably others we haven’t caught up with yet. At some point, it no longer makes sense to look askance at prevailing usage. Someday authoritative sources like those may move to ebook, ecommerce, and ereader, and the Manual will probably follow suit, but for now, those terms seem solid as they are.

Second, dropping a hyphen from email needn’t compel a writer to remove the hyphen from every other word with the e combining form. Readers are comfortable with many apparent hyphenation inconsistencies. Few are bothered when they see everlasting but ever-ready, or halfway but half-asleep and half sister.

Another popular objection to the hyphenless spelling is that it could be confused with the obsolete word email deriving from the French word meaning “enamel.” But that’s just silly.

Top photo: Courtesy normanack, Robin, Polish Crested Chicken.

The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition

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2 thoughts on “From E-mail to Email: Is the Sky Falling?

  1. But Merriam-Webster’s has not yet moved to email: Email is listed as a variant, but Chicago 7.1 says, “If more than one spelling is given…Chicago normally opts for the first form listed.” I don’t object to Chicago’s removing the hyphen, but I wonder why M-W hasn’t yet followed suit — or at least reversed the order of the variants.

    • Thanks for pointing this out, Nancy! That Merriam-Webster is among many authoritative sources now listing “email” as an accepted spelling played into our decision. And to clarify, CMOS follows M-W as backup, when it doesn’t have a stated style of its own. In this case, email is now Chicago style.

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