Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guest in Progress: Paula Guran

I don’t know Paula Guran, but I automatically adore her since she was kind enough to grant permission for me to reprint the following piece about our brave new world of grammar. I live in constant confusion about things like whether it’s proper to write e-mail, email, or even E-mail…web site or website? Here are some authoritative answers on this topic for those of you who, like me, sit up at night worrying about this kind of stuff. (I’m serious, BTW.)

This piece is taken from the newsletter sent out by Writers on the Net, which offers a tempting series of online writing classes, writing groups, a (free!) newsletter, which I recommend, and a bajillion other resources. You can check out the line-up of classes here, and subscribe to the newsletter here.

Also worth checking out: Paula’s blog, which can be found here. After all, you have to respect someone who has had this said of her: "Paula Guran is the grey eminence behind the world of horror. She is the secret mistress of the genre. Listen to her."
--Neil Gaiman, author/screenwriter


Way back in 1994 when I first started composing e-mail newsletters, the words associated with online communication were just beginning to acquire a set "style." My first encounter with bona fide guidance to cyberterms came in 1996 with "Wired Style: Principles Of English Usage In The Digital Age From 'Wired'". I adopted their style for the most commonly used cyberwords and usually adhered to it (with the one exception noted below) since.

-- "Internet" is always capitalized as is its abbreviation "Net"; preceded by "the" unless being used as a modifier. (You find something on "the" Internet, but you connect through an Internet service provider.)

-- "Web" is a shortened form of the proper name "World Wide Web" and is always capitalized. "Web site" is two separate words with the word "Web" capped. (Compound words like "webzine," webmaster," webcam," webcast," etc. are lowercase.)

-- "online" (no capital, no hyphen)-- "email" (no capital, no hyphen)

Now the Internet and its vocabulary are commonplace and enough time has passed that consensus has been reached by reputable style guides. "Internet," "Web," and "online" have been standardized.

And, although I see "website" commonly used in fiction books and elsewhere, as the "Chicago Manual of Style" puts it: "formal usage still calls for 'Web site,' in recognition of the initiatives of the World Wide Web Consortium."

The proper style for the common term for "electronic mail" is, according to the 11th edition of "Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary", "e-mail." (M-W dropped its previous recommendation of the capital "e" but retained the hyphen.) "The Associated Press Stylebook" adopted "e-mail" earlier and the 15th edition of the "Chicago Manual of Style" uses "e-mail" as well.

Bill Walsh, a Washington Post copy editor and author of "Lapsing Into a Comma", considers the unhyphenated version an "abomination." He makes a valid point: " initial-based term in the history of the English language has ever evolved to form a solid word."

As for the plural of "e-mail", CMS sees "e-mail" being grammatically equivalent to "mail" as "sensible" as in:
-- Do you have any e-mail?
-- How much e-mail do you get?
-- How many e-mail messages did he send to you?
-- E-mail is great.

Sentences such as these, below, cannot be considered definitely incorrect, but CMS feels they seem to be more informal:
-- I got two e-mails today.
-- Send me some e-mails when you get a chance.

As always, the important thing about style is picking one and being consistent.~~Paula Guran

About: Paula Guran is the editor/editorial director of fantasy imprint Juno Books. In an earlier life she produced weekly email newsletter DarkEcho (winning two Stokers, an IHG award, and a World Fantasy nomination), edited Horror Garage (earning another IHG and second a World Fantasy nomination), and has contributed reviews, interviews, and articles to numerous professional publications. You can read Paula’s blog, here.


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