rothwell.im

by Jonathan Rothwell

Tim to rtir th lttr 'e'

I hereby postulate that it is time to deprecate the letter ‘e’ in the word ‘e-mail.’

In the modern world, where almost all personal communication takes place over the Web, shouldn’t ‘electronic’ mail be the default ‘mail’? Certainly, in British English, most people refer to physical mail as ‘post.’ There’s no reason to add an ‘e’ on the front: indeed, it’s a wasted keystroke on what is, already, the most heavily-used and heavily-abused key on the keyboard.

I’m not proposing that the word ‘e-mail’ should be gotten rid of completely. When it’s appropriate to distinguish e-mail from postal mail, of course the ‘e’ should be used. The ‘e’ is a bit like the word ‘motor’ on ‘motor-bus’. Most of the time, if you just say ‘bus’, people will know you mean a motor-bus as opposed to a horse-drawn stagecoach.

A Google search for ‘email me’ returns 237,000,000 results. If we eliminated the one or two characters on the front of even fifty per cent of these occurrences of the word ‘email’ or ‘e-mail’, we’d save a hundred and eighteen and a half million keystrokes. Assuming that each keystroke takes half a second (which is a gross under-estimate, considering the number of people who still hunt-and-peck when typing) we’d save around 16,500 man-hours, plus immeasurable numbers of borked ‘e’ keys on keyboards.

Finally, there’s a serious point to my dislike of the ‘e.’ It harks back to the first dot-com boom, when putting a TLD at the end of your company’s name, or prepending a little letter ‘i’ or ‘e’ was a guaranteed way to make a few quick bucks. These were the days when e-mail was still quaint, still a niche market. There were even companies that charged you per e-mail. NTL (later married to Telewest, before being gobbled up by Virgin) even allowed you to send e-mail through your TV.

Nowadays, e-mail is a generally-accepted, de facto standard. Virtually everyone on the Web has an e-mail address. In these days, the ‘e’ is an anachronism, a throw-back to the days of GeoCities and the awful words ‘netizen’ and ‘netiquette.’ Portmanteaus to indicate that it’s just like being an ordinary citizen, or having ordinarily good etiquette, BUT ON THE NET!

This is why, in my opinion, the ‘e’ should go. There’s no need, in 2012, to clarify yourself: electronic mail is regular mail. If you want to refer to postal mail, say ‘post.’ If you want to clarify yourself, say ‘e-mail’. But, for god’s sake, don’t ask your children to get off the computer because you need to send an e-mail: it’s patently obvious that you’re not going to use the computer as a word processor, printer, envelope-stuffer and franking machine.

Save your breaths, and save your keystrokes.