E-Gads — Lamenting a Hyphen’s Loss

By Jason Menard

Hope you’re enjoying your uhmail.

As you can see, I’m not enamoured with the Associated Press’ decision last week to drop the hyphen out of the term e-mail. Generally, I’m all in favour of the modernization of language and I’m by no means a prescriptive grammarian.

But I think the AP – and the majority of my colleagues who support this move – got this one wrong.

What is e-mail? It’s a short form for the term electronic mail. I think some people may have forgotten that in their rush to christen this new word. After all, prior to the Al Gore, there was already a perfectly good system occupying that term “mail.” E-mail was an addition to the lexicon and needed the additional identifier to
differentiate the two.

Now? It’s email. No separation of the electronic from the “mail” — just a new word that’s an abomination to both grammar and phonetics.

Yes, phonetics! Look at that word – email. Now, without your previously established hyphenated biases, read that word aloud. As in, “I was reading my email yesterday.”

Did the “eeee” disappear? If you were being honest with yourself, it probably would have. And how about the syllables? No need for a dramatic pause (now that we’ve exorcised that nasty, not-so-superfluous-now-is-it? hyphen). It’s just uhmail. Or ehmail at best.

No need for a long “eee” any more. It’s all one word.

That hyphen. It was the tie that binds. It was the symbol that gave the “eee” its purpose. Without it, it has been annexed – it’s history now doomed to be forgotten. Years from now, our grandchildren will be looking back at uhmail and the “electronic” will be lost to the cyber mists of time.

Now, some of my cohorts will say, “Yes, but this is akin to dropping the two-word Web site and combining the two into website.” Yes. And I disagree with that too.

Using that logic, why aren’t people talking about dropsites, blastsites, landingsites, digsites, and archeologicalsites? After all, if we can just graft Web onto site in some unholy electronic union…

Oh, sorry, electronic is no longer recognized by the Millennial generation. We’ll just call it an unholy uhunion.

I’m all in favour of changing up the language when and where it warrants. But just as there was no need to add refudiate to the dictionary simply because of Sarah Palin’s bastardization of repudiate and refute, the poor hyphen in e-mail simply did not need to be cast aside so callously.

Unlike Ms. Palin’s speechwriter, the hyphen served a purpose. It added value to the word and helped with its pacing and delivery. It placed the one letter preceding it and the four letters that followed it into proper context.

Now, it joins the Vic 20 and the Dancing Baby of Ally McBeal fame in the scrap heap of technological progress.

It will be a sad day when spell checkers catch up and automatically correct my “slips” of the finger, removing that added hyphen. I may be alone on this one, but I, for one, lament its loss.

1 thought on “E-Gads — Lamenting a Hyphen’s Loss

  1. Kyle Johnson

    I, for one, completely agree with you.

    I found out about the change this morning via Twitter — one of my followers excitedly posted the link, apparently very happy. It was not a great start to my day. I instantly knew that it would take me months to drop the habit. Every day, I see people typing e-mail without the hyphen. Sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t.

    The unusual pronunciation was one of my first thoughts. It’s e-mail. There’s a separation — a distinction. I think I’ll probably just start calling it “mail” and let people figure it out based on context.

    But even then, I don’t get that much email (cringe) these days. Everyone seems to favor Facebook messages or SMS.


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