Email vs. E-mail
Once upon a time, one could speak or write about such media as books and mail, or use such terms as business and commerce, and your audience would immediately understand what you were referring to. But then, toward the end of the twentieth century, came a revolution in how humans conduct social behavior, academic pursuits, and business transactions—activities now often mediated through an electronic device.
As humans adapted to personal computers, cell phones, and related technology, our language concurrently evolved. One result was the invention of a new prefix: The letter e soon appeared in front of existing words as an abbreviation of electronic to express that the term refers to an action accomplished using a computer (or, later, related devices such as cell phones and tablets).
But for a time, how that prefix was attached was a matter of some disagreement. Should a hyphen be employed, or should the term be considered a closed compound? “Electronic mail,” which originally referred to any electronic document-transmission method, including production of facsimiles (also known as faxes), dates back to the 1960s, and in the early 1970s, the abbreviation was codified in the computing world as email. However, even though in the 1990s, the then new but quickly influential magazine Wired championed this closed form, though as the process became widely available, many publications used diverse variations, including e-mail, E-mail, and Email.
The Chicago Manual of Style, which in general sensibly favors minimizing the use of hyphens in prefixed terms, recommends e-mail and the like (except in proper names such as eBay). The Associated Press Style Book switched to email a few years ago after steadfastly mandating e-mail, though e-commerce and all other e-words remain hyphenated. (The capitalized forms, thankfully, never quite caught on.) Merriam-Webster’s, which generally mirrors Chicago’s hyphenation policy, lists e-mail, with email as a variant.
So, which form should prevail? As always, the options are, if you’re self-publishing or you’re compiling a house style guide for a company or organization, to decide for yourself and stick to one or the other, or to go with the form preferred by a company or organization you are writing for or submitting writing to. If the former alternative pertains to you, however, consider that email is only the most prominent among a class of similarly structured words with e attached to book, commerce, learning, and so on, and consistency is a virtue. Therefore, if e-mail, then e-book and so on. If email, then ebook and so on. (And never capitalize the e or the first letter of the root word unless the prefixed word is a brand name.)
My recommendation is, though I generally favor omitting prefix hyphens, to consider the aesthetics and avoid such infelicities as etail (“electronic retail,” meaning “online retail”) and ewaste (“electronic waste,” referring to discarded electronics). (I would avoid such prefixed terms altogether in favor of the long forms, but this may not always be desirable.)
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