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Why isn't E-mail capitalized like it used to be in The New York Times?

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Probably for the same reason "RADAR" is almost always written as "radar." That is, because it's fallen into common use. –  Maxpm May 28 '11 at 0:51
    
I still write "e-mail" with the hyphen, though. :) –  Alenanno May 28 '11 at 1:22
    
English language changes over time, and convention or common usage sometimes trump technically proper grammar. I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually shifted to just plain email... that's the form I prefer anyways. –  M. Dudley May 29 '11 at 0:46
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4 Answers

The 'E' part is an abbreviation, which tend to be capitalised, especially, as others have said, when it's a new term. And abbreviations, through popular use, eventually become a noun in their own right.

However, T-shirt seems to have resisted being lower cased for some decades now, other than the solitary 'tee' which I sometimes see in clothes shops. I wonder whether it's because we like to see the shape of the shirt in the 'T'.

In the UK, about 10 years ago a court order called an 'Anti-Social Behaviour Order' was created - and received many mentions in newspapers. They quickly evolved from ASBO through Asbo to asbo. I think the word was finally integrated when it became, at least in speech, a verb, ie you could have your neighbour 'asboed'.

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Just a guess: T-shirt isn't lower-cased because the "T" physically resembles the shirt. A "t-shirt" would look like a hoodie. :-) Also, +1. –  jprete Nov 14 '11 at 14:39
    
Have to say, I still only ever see 'ASBO' written as fully-capitalised in the papers. (Except when used as a verb, but newspapers tend to avoid that.) –  scottishwildcat Nov 14 '11 at 15:11
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@scottishwildcat The Guardian style guide says: Use all capitals if an abbreviation is pronounced as the individual letters: BBC, VAT, etc; if it is an acronym (pronounced as a word) spell out with initial capital, eg Nasa, Nato, unless it can be considered to have entered the language as an everyday word, such as awol, laser and, more recently, asbo, pin number and sim card. They also use email and T-shirt. –  Hugo Nov 14 '11 at 15:25
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All these have to do with the shape, hence they remain capitalized: A-frame, C-clamp, I-beam, L-bracket, O-ring, S-curve, T-shirt, T-square, T-junction, T-bar, U-turn, V-neck, etc. –  Andrew Vit Nov 15 '11 at 9:15
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I can't find anything to verify this, but I think they capitalized it for the same reasons they still capitalize 'Web' and 'Internet' -- they considered it a proper name. Probably even when they did capitalize 'E-mail', they wouldn't have capitalized it in cases like "Sally received an e-mail," but only in cases like "The E-mail servers crashed in Barbados."

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Looking through some other materials, I see that the old-school way to refer to an email was "E-mail message." –  senderle May 28 '11 at 15:21
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It has become an independent word (they dropped the hyphen, too, from what I can see), not a hyphenated abbreviation of "electronic mail".

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I'm not sure this answers why the capitalization has changed. "Internet" has always been a single word, but it used be the Internet and now it's just the internet. So independence isn't enough to determine this. –  Matthew Read May 28 '11 at 1:35
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@Matthew Read, the New York Times still capitalizes 'Internet.' At least sometimes. But that doesn't have to do with 'independence' -- it's because they consider 'Internet' a proper noun. –  senderle May 28 '11 at 1:53
    
@senderle That's exactly my point, it has nothing to do with independence. As per your answer, it could have something to do with E-mail also being considered a proper name. –  Matthew Read May 28 '11 at 2:27
    
I think you're right about the reason for the capitalization, that it followed the style they used for Internet and Web. But I was addressing the question asked: "why was the capitalization dropped?" Or did they spell it "Email" for a while? I figure they dropped the capital when they dropped the hyphen. –  JeffSahol May 28 '11 at 14:21
    
"it used be the Internet and now it's just the internet". You still have the in there. Or did you mean that the was part of the name? I don't see any difference between then and now. –  Arlen Beiler May 28 '11 at 20:37
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This seems to have happened around the turn of the millenium; there's mostly E-mail up to 1999, and e-mail from 2000.

Readers had been complaining about E-mail since at least 1995, which gives us the reasoning behind the capital. From the New York Times, August 21, 1995:

P.S. A recurrent gripe, regardless of the vote being cast, involved The New York Times style for writing "E-mail."

"My biggest complaint is the fuddy-duddy spelling 'E-mail,' " wrote Cate Gable of Berkeley, Calif., speaking for many, who wonder why this newspaper uses an uppercase "E" for something that many people and publications write as "e-mail."

The Times style for the term is in keeping with T-shirt, A-frame, H-bomb and other analogous words that predate E-mail. For now, at least, it will stay that way.

In fact, if you read the article from page 1, they're discussing whether An E-mail and E-mails are acceptable terms for a piece and pieces of electronic mail.

Back to the present. The New York Times is still using e-mail and aren't planning to switch to email just yet. But more and more newspaper style guides, including the AP Stylebook, are dropping the hyphen. I expect the Times will follow at some point.

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