The Case of the Missing Hyphen, Part 2
We thank all of you who took the time to respond to the question we posed two weeks ago: Should it be e-mail or email? There were eloquent arguments for both sides, but email won decisively. “Time to join the 21st century,” wrote one gentleman, who added, “and I’m 61 years old.”
Many of you chose email for pragmatic reasons, like this respondent: “In all practicality, email will win. On my smartphone, anyone typing the word e-mail has to shift to a second, then a third screen to complete the word.”
What this amounts to, said another reader, is that “texting is creating a whole new language.” We find ourselves rattled by that thought.
If, as one of you wrote, “The only quick punctuation mark I have on my smartphone is the period,” then this helps explain the indifference to hyphens, commas, apostrophes—and capital letters after periods—that we nitpickers are noting with ever-increasing dismay. Why should advances in technology have to come at the expense of the English language?
Other readers took the long view. “When the use of a particular prefix with a particular word is new, the hyphen is a useful link,” wrote one. “Once people become used to the new combination, the hyphen will be dropped.” History bears out this astute observation. Let’s look at some other familiar words that have followed the same pattern.
Goodbye: In 1968, Random House’s American College Dictionary demanded a hyphen, and preferred good-by to good-bye. The 1980 American Heritage dictionary agreed. But by 2006, American Heritage preferred goodbye, although it also listed the hyphenated choices.
Passerby: It started out as passer-by. The Associated Press Stylebook still recommends the hyphen, but that probably won’t last. The American Heritage dictionary already gave passerby top billing eight years ago.
Fundraiser: After years of recommending fund-raiser, the Associated Press’s manual dropped the hyphen seven years or so ago.
Baseball: The one-word form we have today did not prevail until less than 100 years ago. It was base ball in the early nineteenth century and base-ball in the early twentieth century.
Grass-roots (adjective): The American Heritage dictionary, Webster’s New World (fourth edition), and the Associated Press all agree on the hyphen, but grassroots is coming on strong.
So who are we to flout the inevitable? From now on, we’ll grit our teeth and write email.
Posted on Monday, March 17, 2014, at 8:08 pm