All About E

Capitalizing “E-mail.”

Summer, 2005 / No. 14

As discussed in the magazine’s previous number, Taddle Creek has rescinded its earlier decision to lower-case the word “Web” and the like when used in reference to “World Wide Web,” given that “World Wide Web” is a proper noun and “Web” simply a shorter version of the former. Thusly, phrases such as “Web site” and “Web master” shall retain their upper-case Ws for the same reason. And so, Taddle Creek was dismayed to find, upon last year’s publication of the second edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the magazine’s official spelling resource, that Oxford’s editors had decided to close up and lower-case all Web-related words (“website,” “webmaster,” etc.). As Katherine Barber, the dictionary’s editor, recently told the magazine, “We look at what current usage is. When we did the first edition, ‘Web site’ was still a pretty new word, and more people were capping it than others. By the time we did the second edition, more people seemed to be writing it as one word.”

Sadly, this attitude is all too common amongst dictionary editorial collectives today, as dictionaries present themselves less as authorities and more as keepers of the public record. As a result, such as in the case of “Web site,” dictionaries end up embracing the grammatical advice of ponytailed foosball players—those same people who would tell you that because the Internet and the Web are new, fast-paced frontiers the old rules of grammar don’t apply; that it’s not necessary to properly punctuate or check the spelling of an E-mail as one would a printed letter.

Contrary to popular belief, Taddle Creek more than understands the need for languages to evolve and grow over time. It does not, however, subscribe to the idea that advancements in technology must equal setbacks in the written language, which is exactly what those who promote the lower-casing of everything Internet would have you believe. Which is a roundabout way of saying, until Oxford starts lower-casing “baked Alaska,” Taddle Creek cannot and will not abide by these recent changes.

There is one other instance in which Taddle Creek’s spelling style deviates from that of the Canadian Oxford. The word in question is “E-mail,” which in the pages of Taddle Creek retains the capital E that fell out of favour quickly after the term gained popularity in the mid-nineteen-nineties. Again, Taddle Creek’s stance is a matter of obvious principle, especially when one considers the word is no different than, say, “A-bomb.” But, once again, there are those who would claim that, for no good reason other than it’s faster to type, “E-mail” should be spelled as “e-mail” or, even worse, “email,” which is a bastardization of the English language so great Taddle Creek will not justify it with a response.

With the publication of the eleventh edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, in 2003, Taddle Creek lost its two biggest allies—the New Yorker and Vanity Fair—in the war on lower-casing the abbreviation for “electronic mail,” when the dictionary, the major spelling reference for many U.S. consumer magazines, changed its spelling of “E-mail” to “e-mail” and, Taddle Creek assumes, the two magazines decided to follow suit. (Though the New Yorker’s caving is especially disheartening, considering its continued use of the umlaut in such words as “reÎmerge.”) But Taddle Creek, always daring to be different, wishes to stick to its guns on this one and will continue to use the upper-case.

But again, as far as “Web” is concerned, please, don’t listen to the people who wear suits without ties while still looking uncomfortable in social settings. Their industry collapsed within a decade of its birth—good grammar is forever.