AP announced today
that it will drop the hyphen from the word formerly written, under AP style, as “e-mail.” It is also changing “cell phone” to “cellphone.” Nearly a year ago, the wire service switched from “Web site” to “website.”
“Language evolves,” the keepers of the AP Stylebook Tweeted, or tweeted, or posted to the Twitter service . Yes, it does, and it would be an odd, fusty world if everyone publishing in American English kept putting a dieresis on “coöperate” a la Eustace Tilley. But the AP’s don’t-bend-but-break approach to the problem of computerage wordmash is getting superirritating if you write for a living.
Style rules are there to spare writers and editors from having to worry about the details over and over again. Some people believe that the hyphen in ” e-mail ” is antithetical to the free and speedy spirit of the in4mationage. Some people believe that the unhyphenated “email” looks faddish and lazy. I find both sets of people irritating, and I have no desire to stage a debate between them when I am simply trying to mention, in passing, that the means by which someone wrote and delivered a particular piece of text was an electronic-mail program. It was an email. An e-mail. I don’t care which.
What’s the point of switching sides now? In 10 more years, for all we know, everyone’s going to do the even more straightforward thing and call electronic mail “mail.” Most people I talk to already call their cell phones “phones,” because those are what they use to make all their phone calls. (That thing sticking out of the wall, which I got mostly for the sake of hearing people clearly during phone interviews, is a “landline.” Or is it a “land line”? AP, so eager to keep up with the times, doesn’t specify.)
Maybe the changes are part of the wire service’s sad ongoing campaign to be kicky and “with it.” Maybe the AP is worried about the strain on everyone’s right pinkies from stretching up to hit those hyphens and reaching down to shift the W’s.
The thing that makes standards useful is that they’re standards: you don’t have to stop the freight train halfway to its destination and load everything from four-and-a-half-foot-gauge boxcars into five-foot-gauge boxcars. But the AP keeps ripping up the rails and laying new ones. Today’s announcement doesn’t convince me that “email” is better (or worse) than “e-mail.” It just convinces me the AP has no idea what it’s doing.