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  • May 3, 2007

Hyphens Equal Disrespect

Students of language know that as new terms become accepted by the mainstream they evolve into shorter words, single words and shed their capitalization and hyphenation. Words like "Web site," "on-line" and “Web log” have over time have become "website," "online" and “blog” as people became more comfortable with them. "Electronic mail" has followed a similar acceptance arc, becoming "E-mail" and then "e-mail."

It's now time for the word to take its final step and become simply "email," severing its antiquated 20th century association with mail delivered by people in blue uniforms and signifying the ubiquity of this form of communication, which is now used by 97% of all consumers and 94% of marketers, according to Forrester Research. While e-mail was a very good word for describing the text-only ancestors of email, it’s an entirely inappropriate way to describe today’s interactive email experience. Emails have much more in common with websites than mail nowadays.

Now I’m sure some in the industry are taking their cue from their favorite dictionary. As a trained journalist, I know the importance of having a house dictionary to establish the consistent spelling of words. However, I also know that every publication has their own house style guide, which includes all the exceptions. What I’m proposing is that every email marketer, email software vendor and publication add “email” as the preferred spelling to their house style guide—at least until the laggard dictionaries catch up.

The way dictionary publishers work is that they take their cue from publications, which in turn take their cue from their constituents. We’re already seeing this in action. Plenty of marketers thankfully already spell “email,” which has led publications like MediaPost to adopt the shorter, sans-hyphen spelling as their house style.

Marketers, you can aid this groundswell by changing the spelling in your email templates and making sure to spell the word correctly in your creatives. And vendors, you can help by changing the templates of your products so that “email” is spelled correctly without any action by your clients, and by spelling the word correctly in your press releases, blogs and whitepapers.

You can also show your support for email by signing the Email Experience Council’s Hyphens Equal Disrespect petition. Just click here, let us know your name and the company you represent, and we’ll add your name (just your name, not your email address) to our petition so that those in the industry and those outside it can see how we spell respect. As the number of signees grows, the EEC will use this list to demonstrate the will of the industry and to convince publishers to change their spelling of the word. Dictionaries will fall in line behind the publishers.

As marketers, you all know the power of words. Give this revolutionary communication tool the respect it deserves by pledging to drop the hyphen and spell it simply as "email."

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