Saturday, April 23, 2005

ur kidding lol

The normally astute Wall Street Journal has decided that email is a word. A tear is running down my cheek, much like the one on the proud Indian's face in that anti-littering commercial from the early '70s.

44 comments:

Stephen Jones said...

Presumably your tear is a homeopathic attempt to turn back the waves.

Bill said...

Now, now. Calling me a homo is not going to solve anything.

Stephen Jones said...

Surely being a homo is a virtue in a copy-editor, whose job is to ensure the sameness of language throughout his fiefdom.

And why is it that conservatives are so against co-habitation in couples, but quite horrified when compound words decide to tie the knot after a fitting period of courtship?

Stephen Jones said...

At least the hyphen in copy-editor proves Hartman's law is alive and well!

Niko Dugan said...

I'm sorry, but where in the Style and Substance newsletter is there a credible defense for them to do this, other than "saving the hyphens for compound modifiers"? Ugh.

Bill said...

Good point, Niko. I noticed the same thing. Do I smell an edict imposed from above?

Russet Shadows said...

And why do liberals insist on throwing in their political commentary everywhere that it doesn't belong? I could speculate, but I'll be nice today.

The WSJ is actually lagging on this trend. It's quite an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon -- compounded words that is. We do use "library" now instead of the OE "bookhoard" but the fundamental nature of the langauge and the drive to collapse words to their most basic unit of expression lives on.

Bill said...

True enough, Russet, but that doesn't apply here. Never, ever has a single-letter-based abbreviation become a solid word. A-frame, B movie, C-rations, and so on, and so on.

Stephen Jones said...

Things can be statistically significant even if they don't happen at all - let alone once.

'Email' does seem to be in a class of its own. A Google search reveals it is as common as 'e-mail'. On the other hand 'Tshirt' or 'Xray' are twenty times less common than 'T-Shirt/T Shirt' or 'X-Ray/X Ray'. For some reason 'Gstring' is only four times less common than 'G-String/G String', which is the same proportion as for 'ecommerce' versus 'e-commerce'.

It's arguable what proportion of people have to spell a word a certain way before it's accepted as a legitimate alternative spelling, but I do think that 770 million occurences of 'email' compared to 566 million of 'e-mail' is enough.

It is, of course, equally true that the Wall Street Journal has no business to ban 'e-mail', but the right of a publishing house or newspaper to arbitrarily interfere with the language of its writers is a cornerstone of American intellectual life. Good grief, if we got rid of that, we'd have to get rid of the 'droit de seigneur' and emancipate the slaves as well.

Bill said...

There's a first time for everything, a wise author of cliches once said, and I don't doubt that someday this ignorant and lazy usage will be standard. But, if you'll forgive the strained genetics analogy, this is the last place I expected the first significant mutation to occur.

Stephen Jones said...

Why accuse the users, or the usage, of ignorance and laziness, just because you disagree with them?

There are two conflicting tendencies in spelling at work here.

The first is as you say that the normal pattern in English is for the one word abbreviation to be followed by the hyphen.

The second is for common compound words to end up as one word.

It seems that the second tendency is winning over the first one here.

If it were pure ignorance and laziness, one would expect to see it a lot in other constructions such as A-bomb and B-list and T-shirt, and as I said before this isn't happening.

Bill said...

dum peeple don type abomb evyday in new fast way t talk rotflmao

Stephen Jones said...

'2' not 't'in l33t spk

Bill said...

"ty"

Linda said...

I know some very non-lazy, non-ignorant people who do it that way.

I feel you on your preference for the hyphen, but none of the examples you provide ("x-ray" and so forth) are anywhere near as ubiquitous as the word "e-mail."

Furthermore, there are no other words that start "xr," as "xray" would, and thus, it looks weird. There are, on the other hand, a zillion words that look and work just like the word "email," including "emit," "emote," "emerge," and the like. Aside from preservation of the origin for the origin's sake, there's no reason why "email" isn't a perfectly lovely word, easily understood and pronounced.

I agree that your way has strong arguments in its favor, and if it were up to me, I'd probably take the same side of the argument you do. But I'm not sure a person would have to be ignorant to conclude that the hyphen is essentially, at this point, unnecessary.

Niko Dugan said...

I said before I found no credible reasoning in the newsletter for the change.

Something else worth noting: The change applies only to "email," and the newsletter takes careful precaution to note that "e-commerce" and the like will retain the hyphen.

Making a word an exception to a guideline that otherwise fulfills the needs of an entire family of words just like it is a perfect excuse not to do it.

There are, on the other hand, a zillion words that look and work just like the word "email," including "emit," "emote," "emerge," and the like. Aside from preservation of the origin for the origin's sake, there's no reason why "email" isn't a perfectly lovely word, easily understood and pronounced.

Herein lies the problem. Those words did not originate from a conflagration of a first-letter-hyphenate and a word it modifies. Aside from every other argument given, consider the same sentence with the two different spellings of "e-mail:"

"I sent him an e-mail yesterday with the presentation's outline."
"I sent him an email yesterday with the presentation's outline."

The second sentence makes me stop at "email," because I read it "ehm-mail" or "uhmail" and have to take time to realize what they're going for is "e-mail." Why make readers work harder than they have to?

Linda said...

Do you really stop at "email"? Because I don't. Like, at all. Granted, it may be because I'm used to it because it's standard at a place where I write, but I can't believe people are really regularly confused by that.

Furthermore, while reading The Elephants of Style in bed the other night (suck up, suck up, suck up), I happened upon the matter of words like "Centcom," to be spelled thusly, made from mashing together parts of two different words, or even ones like "scuba," made from what were originally acronyms that have shed their acronym-ness.

If I can make "scuba" a word despite the fact that it was originally SCUBA and consists entirely of what were originally initial letters, or if I can mash parts of two words together to get to "Centcom," then why can't I put the "e" from "electronic" with the word "mail" into a single, integrated word? Could we make what's now "e-mail" into simply "em," and would it then be like "scuba"? Or "snafu"?

I just feel like this argument deteriorates into the rare one in which I actually throw in with people who think that form is perhaps being elevated over substance, even though I usually count that battle cry as the last refuge of the lazy.

As I said, none of the other ones ("B movie," "x-ray," and so forth) are nearly as common as "email"/"e-mail" now is, and the fact that people want to toss the hyphen just doesn't surprise me that much. And it doesn't strike me as inherently ignorant to do that, despite the fact that, as I said, it wouldn't necessarily be my choice.

In other words, I see it as probably not the decision I'd make, but nothing to get weepy-Indian about.

Stephen Jones said...

Does niko refuse to say "I am" because 'be' is the only verb in English that has a different form for the first person singular?

abgs said...

If "I be," "you be," "he/she/it bes," "we/they be" had been the established conjugation of "to be" for centuries, and suddenly someone decided "Let's say 'I am,'" I, too, would refuse to take part.

From what I can tell, the difference between "email" and, say, "tshirt" or "vchip," is that "email" looks pronounceable, while "tshirt" and "vchip" look like Cyborgian gibberish.

Now, of course, there are people who probably write "tshirt" and "vchip." These people use hyphens about as often as they write "I'm sorry, but I'll have to continue this conversation later" instead of "ggttyl;-)." (Oops, maybe they do use hyphens.) "Email," by its cloak of readibility, has deluded many into thinking it acceptable English, where they would never be caught writing "tshirt." The vowel is key, here, in creating that distinction.

As "email" began to deftly lure more and more respectable followers, gradually the argument of "established usage" became more appealing. "Ecommmerce," alas, was not did not win the linguistic bikini contest; hence, it still looks awkward to the e-intelligenstia.

"E-mail" is still infinitely more correct than "email"; I am probably even more hard-line than Bill is as far as hypehns. No, it is not like a prefix; no, it is not like a compound word. If you want something for comparison, try scientific names, where family/species name is often abbreviated to a single letter. (Would you spell "T. rex" as "trex"?) I agree than WSJ has needlessly cluttered its stylebook, and I will fight diligently for the preservation of "e-mail." Yes, English is tongue of exceptions, but we needn't create more than already exist.

(Hmm, perhaps the argument against a regular "to be" verb was the confusion surrounding "thou best.")

abgs said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stephen Jones said...

(Hmm, perhaps the argument against a regular "to be" verb was the confusion surrounding "thou best.")

Explanation?

Dr. Zoom said...

Two questions for Linda:

1) If we're going to compare 'email" to "emit," emote" and "emerge," are we going to stress the second syllable in the first word as we do the last three? Just curious.

2) Is "e-mail" THAT much more common a word than "T-shirt"?

abgs said...

(Hmm, perhaps the argument against a regular "to be" verb was the confusion surrounding "thou best.")

Explanation?


Bleh, a lame joke turned lamer.

If I can make "scuba" a word despite the fact that it was originally SCUBA and consists entirely of what were originally initial letters, or if I can mash parts of two words together to get to "Centcom," then why can't I put the "e" from "electronic" with the word "mail" into a single, integrated word? Could we make what's now "e-mail" into simply "em," and would it then be like "scuba"? Or "snafu"?

"SCUBA" is an acronym that, from a combination of its ubiquity and its length (many publications stop at five letters), went lowercase. It is read as a single word, not letter-by-letter. It is not a product/company name under copyright, either, so we don't have to do an initial cap. Ditto "snafu," a word whose death I gladly await. E-mail, as I'm sure you realize, is not an acronym. If we wanted to abbreviate "electronic mail" to a two-letter acronym, it would be EM or E.M. or e.m., not "em." You would want people to say "E-M" as two separate letters, not "em" (M), right? "Em" is also a word in its own right, used to describe a dash the length of the letter M (—).

Oh, and that would be “intelligentsia” in my previous post, along with a host of equally obvious errors. Darn this inability to edit.

Linda said...

The "Just curious" tag sort of gives away that those aren't actually questions I'm supposed to answer, but I'll bite anyway.

I actually thought of the second-syllable emphasis issue, and technically, you're right. My point is that it doesn't defy pronunciation, and to anyone not being intentionally obtuse, the pronunciation isn't going to be particularly difficult. If you like, you can compare it to "emu" instead.

And yes, "email"/"e-mail" is a far more common term in at least my day-to-day life than "t-shirt."

And... dude. I understand what "scuba" is and is not. I'm not arguing they're precisely the same thing. I'm arguing that if you can make "scuba" or "snafu" a word without worrying about the fact that you're taking the letters of an acronym and mashing them into a word that is no longer treated as an acronym, it doesn't make sense to me to be outraged about one initial letter and one full word. Identifying the technically inferior of two ways people are currently forming a word is one thing; assuming people are lazy and ignorant because they choose the technically inferior way is another.

I've said several times that I'd probably come down on the side of "e-mail" myself. I'm not saying it isn't more correct. My point is only that I think there are arguments on both sides, and I don't put it up there with the acceptance of "irregardless," or of "impact" as a verb, in terms of its moral heft or its ability to make me grind my teeth.

Stephen Jones said...

and I don't put it up there with the acceptance of "irregardless," or of "impact" as a verb, in terms of its moral heft or its ability to make me grind my teeth.
So you are not against prescriptivisn - just against others writing the prescriptions.

Irregardless has to be accepted as a word. Whether it should be accepted in polite company or be obliged to wait outside the tradesman's entrance is another matter.

impact has been in use as a verb since 1601. After 400 years of teeth-grinding a visit to the dentist might be in order.

Linda said...

Well, I don't participate in smackfests in other people's comments, so I'll leave it there, given that making an argument over a hyphen into an opportunity for personal insults is one of those things that threatens to make the internet into some kind of parody of itself.

Stephen Jones said...

What personal insults?

And after all, you were the one who brought 'moral heft' into the argument.

Aaron said...

Linda, it's "Internet," not "internet."

Bill said...

Let's all be nice and remember the real purpose of this forum, which of course is for Stephen Jones to point out what an idiot I am for sometimes straying from mainline descriptivism.

LizzieDaisy said...

I followed a link from my blog back to yours because there was a virtual stampede going on — two visits in five days. I thought it might be fun to backtrack and see what was up.

Can I say this? You all scare me. I'd put a smiley after that but I don't want to get my head bitten off. It's bad enough that I use contractions, incomplete sentances, ellipsis (just for fun and in the wrong places), and my grammar and spelling are attrocious, atrosious, hm, very bad. I can use the English language correctly if I necessary... I have proof readers.

email, e-mail
tshirt, t-shirt
xray, x-ray

WHY does it matter? I mean really. Yes, I read the whole post. Technically, I understand the difference, but gee, can you give me a really GOOD reason to care? Life or death of someone, somewhere? That said, I'm adding my own thoughts, always do.

Email is word we see every day and I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't personally have to sound it out. Same with tshirt. Virtually noone uses the hyphen, whether it is technically correct or not. When I see a hyphen in those words and others, I often think it makes the word look strange. I suppose it might be because I'm not an English major, or maybe it's because I'm just an ignorant, lazy American, but either way it seems to me that some people are just afraid of the evolution of it all.

Boy, I'll bet that just drove you all nuts. Who wants to correct it?

Have a great day all! Liz

(oh, what the heck) :)

Bill said...

Hi, Liz. You're right that all this is far from a life-or-death matter, but ... do you go to kitchen-design sites and ask the people posting there why on earth they care whether the damn backsplash is tile, stainless steel or dried dog shit, as long as it works? For better or worse, this is What We Do.

Stephen Jones said...

Let's all be nice and remember the real purpose of this forum, which of course is for Stephen Jones to point out what an idiot I am for sometimes straying from mainline descriptivism.
Yea, I'm a right old curmedgeon. You want to see the stick I give the mason building my house when he strays from mainline plane geometry!

And at post 32 it is about time to point out that the real reason email has caught on is that the hyphen key is so awkwardly placed on the keyboard. :)

amr said...

You know, I do believe that those of us who spell it "e-mail" are losing the battle. I have mixed feelings. Like Bill, I see "email" and instantly think "uhmail." It just looks sloppy and illiterate to me. But unlike Bill, I don't believe that "this has never happened before" is a legitimate argument in favor of retaining "e-mail." As that great sage Frank Zappa once pointed out, "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." Without progress -- in this case, the collapsing of compounds -- we'd still be writing "modulator/demodulator" instead of "modem." Along with that progress, we end up with clunkers like "email," but you can't win 'em all.

I suppose I'm fortunate in that I have the best grasp of grammar on our copy desk, and as such, people listen when I make style suggestions. (I'm not trying to be arrogant; the folks on the desk here would agree, and they often turn to me for help on matters of grammar.) We're having a style summit in a few weeks to update our guidelines, and I'm going to make every argument for changing our "email" style to "e-mail," -- not because "email" sets a precedent, but rather because of the pronunciation stumbling block, because we don't eliminate the hyphen in other "e-" constructions (like "e-commerce" and "e-business"), and because I think the hyphen makes the word look more elegant.

But if I lose, I won't suffer from sleepless nights. If I have to, I'll keep writing "email" when I'm editing and "e-mail" in my personal correspondence. Others here are right that this is not the Beginning of the Downfall of the English Language. I don't know about you guys, but I have bigger battles to fight, like the prevalence of "due to" where "because of" is appropriate. Now THAT is a worthwhile struggle that deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

Ace said...

I vote for "e-mail" on the grounds of consistency. If they're going to do "e-commerce" and so forth, as a copy editor (though probably one without either the vast experience or fervor of many here), that lack of parallelism bugs the snot out of me.

Just discovered the blog, by the way, and it's excellent! Very funny, and yet professionally interesting.

Aside, frankly, as a part-time screenwriter and not-so-snazzy dresser, I think I probably use "B-movie" (which I tend to hyphenate) and "T-shirt" about as often as I use "e-mail" in my own, um, e-mail.

Kristina said...

From what I can tell, the difference between "email" and, say, "tshirt" or "vchip," is that "email" looks pronounceable, while "tshirt" and "vchip" look like Cyborgian gibberish.

I happen to think that "vchip" and "tshirt" are more likely to receive correct pronunciations as opposed to "email." When I see "vc" I think to pronounce the letter V because what words make a "vc" sound? I would not think to pronounce "emulate" as "ee-myoo-layt."

Then again, I'm just a kid.

mattr said...

She wore T-shirts and G-strings; she drove an E-Type with P-plates. She liked X-rated B-movies, O. Henry and *NSync. She left Q-tips in my S-bend and J-Pop on my iPod. She was my H-bomb.

Mark said...

It's probably mostly the added effort to type the hyphen.

Niko Dugan said...

Irregardless has to be accepted as a word. Whether it should be accepted in polite company or be obliged to wait outside the tradesman's entrance is another matter.

I don't mean to get off-track here, but can you explain that one to me? It's a double negative contained in one word.

Bill said...

"Irregardless" is a word, of course, but to give it any shred of acceptance is ridiculous. I don't even buy the standard criticism that it means the opposite of what it's trying to say, the way "I could care less" does. It's worse than that. To me, "not regardless" doesn't translate to "regardful" or "regarding" or anything else that makes any sense.

Dave Strauss said...

OK, so I'm coming to this a little late (or maybe it's a little early). "Email" is the correct spelling because "email" is something which was invented and named by geeks. Just because grammarians started using "e-mail" doesn't change the original spelling and usage.

Bill said...

Inventors don't necessarily get to choose the spelling and punctuation of a non-trademarked word. And geeks can't un-invent the letter "e."

Dave Strauss said...

OB Jargon-file reference: http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/E/email.html

Andrew Phelps said...

I know this is an old entry, but it's an ongoing fight.

...which reminds me of Google Fight, that great Web site (capitalized, two words) that does all the Googling work for you.

As you can see, e-mail beats the heck out of email.

English Richard said...

Hey guys, use your heads, or more exactly your neurons. In our heads, when we think about an electronic message we "hear" and say "e mail" not "electronic mail". We should think of the problematic "email" as a "sign" not a word. I'm sure you have no problem thinking of and saying “USA”. You do not insist on always saying United States of America, and you certainly do not "pronounce" the letters "usa".
OK, so e-mail has become email, and even though it's not a real word and not an abbreviation, why not accept it as a sign and say it as such? For example, in the UK people say "Pound" for the sign £, and you folks say "dollar" for the sign $.
On this keyboard I do not have the simple and basic Chinese sign for "man", it's like an inverted Y, but when I see this Chinese sign I think "man".
Long live the sign "email" !