AP Steps Into the 2000s: Email Loses the Hyphen

Ah, the Associated Press. Bless their hearts. Long the whipping boy of web business types [and deservedly so, for a years-long series of tone-deaf and business-stupid moves online], the AP has nonetheless retained its position as the stylebook of business and media.

Quick background: Stylebooks are used by both business and media communicators to settle questions of how you spell things, what to capitalize, how to handle URLS or emails in copy — in short, anything that you might have a difference of opinion on. When you’re communicating for a living, you need to make a decision about how to handle these questions of opinion and then stick with your answer throughout your communications. It makes you look more professional and ends time-wasting arguments about when you capitalize titles.

In my two decades of communications experience, I’ve never seen anything get people angrier than hyphens. I have no idea why this small line is so infuriating, but believe me, this is far worse than the Oxford comma.

Hyphens typically crop up in a couple of places: To string together two-word adjectives [just like that — meta!] or when you’re sticking together two words to make them one [like cross-country]. I tend to be an over-hyphenater [to be generous to you under-hyphenaters out there], mostly because I like concrete rules. When you hyphenate less, there are usually still some things you’re going to hyphenate, and I find some hyphenation far more confusing than lots.

And for years, the Associated Press has kept the hyphen in the word e-mail — I guess because it’s a shortening of the now-ancient-sounding phrase electronic mail. As early as the mid-1990s, online style guides recommended spelling the word as email, but AP [and as a consequence, lots and lots of journalists] has lagged behind. But last week, AP finally decreed that the proper spelling is email.

Most organizations that officially declare style use some combination of a recognized manual like AP and their own rules, so many organizations have been spelling it email for years now; the AP’s decision last week simply follows current usage, instead of defining current usage, as it often does.

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