'Hyphens Equal Disrespect' Petition: We'll Just Call You Stubborn

The Email Experience Council’s “Hyphens Equal Disrespect” Petition is about more than shortening a commonly used word so you don’t look antiquated, especially in the eyes of younger customers. It’s about acknowledging that today’s email is ubiquitous, powerful, interactive and cost-effective—and has very little in common with its Cro-Magnun, text-only ancestor, “electronic mail.” Email has evolved and so has the spelling.

We’re constantly amazed to the resistance we encounter when talking to publications and other folks that use the old, hyphenated spelling. Here’s a great example of what we hear. In a recent “Ask AP” story on USA Today’s website, Tim Bergerhofer of Kansas City, Mo., asked:

As electronic mail became widespread, it came to be referred to as “e-mail.” Many users soon began to drop the hyphen (fewer keystrokes). Now, “email” is searched on Google nearly six times as much as “e-mail.” Is there a plan to switch “e-mail” to “email” in an upcoming version of the AP Stylebook?

David Minthorn, AP manager for news administration, responded:

Call us stubborn, or sticklers for clarity, but AP sees no compelling reason to replace e-mail with email. Why do we stand on e-mail? That spelling is the first choice of major dictionaries, including AP’s primary spelling reference, Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition. It is also the preference of many newspapers. And e-mail is consistent with other hyphenated, electronic age terms such as e-book, e-commerce, e-shopping and e-business (which would look odd without hyphens). You’re not the first to propose dropping the hyphen. But the arguments of one fewer keystroke and search engine statistics don’t convince us that e-mail would be enhanced by excision.

In a petition update last year, we argued that one reason to make the switch was that there were more references to “email” than “e-mail” online—with that gap only widening over the past 10 months. But when you look at search frequency, as Bergerhofer did, the gap is truly ridiculous, and growing ever larger. If this isn’t spitting into the wind of consumer sentiment I don’t know what is.

Given how frequent web searchers are punching in the sans-hyphen spelling, we think it incredulous that the AP can argue that they’re “sticklers for clarity.” Clearly there’s no confusion about what “email” is.

While true to some extent, arguing that using a hyphen in “email” is consistent with other electronic age terms like “e-book” and “e-commerce” is becoming a harder argument. “Ebook” is already searched for far more often than “e-book,” and “ecommerce” should permanently overtake “e-commerce” in search frequency sometime this year.

Now it’s true that Webster’s still spells email with a hyphen, although some dictionaries don’t. But here’s the thing about dictionaries: They take their cue from the media. And the media largely takes their cue from the marketplace. So join our growing list of petition supporters and banish the hyphen from your spelling of “email.” And if your favorite publication is still using a hyphen, ask them why they’re disrespecting the email marketing industry by using the 20th century spelling.

—Chad White of the Email Experience Council

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