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E-mail, email, anal

Last week, I twitted the Associated Press Stylebook over the shift from e-mail to email, along with the overheated response from copy editors.* Not everyone was amused: @Vonnestar tweeted, “No, AP changes aren't the most important thing in the world, but you don't have to be an ass about it, @johnemcintyre.”

I’m not sure that she grasps my mission.

Arnold Zwicky, however, did, commenting on his blog:

“As a practicing copyeditor, McIntyre is entitled to his mocking hyperbole. I share his sentiments entirely; this is not even a tempest in a teapot, it’s a fuss in a thimbleful of spit, a matter of no consequence at all.

“And, as McIntyre understands, the AP Stylebook (or Style Book, or whatever) has no scintilla of the force of law and is often profoundly silly in its blanket declarations. So the astonishing response that this change in advice has elicited on the web is dismaying.

“Please do not write to tell me that my practice of spelling the word E-MAIL rather than EMAIL is now simply incorrect (or, worse, and incomprehensibly, ‘ungrammatical’) and that I should be publicly shamed. There are justifications for both spellings, and why should there have to be One Right Way, and anyway why should anyone care?”

You should have a look at his posting, because he goes into some detail about the phenomenon of “two-part expressions as separated, hyphenated, or solid.” Anyone who pays any attention at all to the language is aware that variants—he pointedly suggests copy editor, copy-editor, and copyeditor—often exist simultaneously, depending on the habits and preferences of different communities. It is largely a matter of taste whether you or your publication prefers one, not a point of correctness. Associated Press Stylebook, Chicago Manual of Style, tomato, tomahto.**

I should warn you, however, that you who prefer hyphens may wish to guard your supply. A post today at The Subversive Copy Editor indicates that some behind-closed-doors deal between Chicago and AP is in the works. I won’t go so far as to say that it amounts to a combination in restraint of trade, but someone ought to alert the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.


*Copy editors are the only people on the planet, Associated Press writers and editors not excluded, who pay any attention to what AP style is, or care.

**Someone suggested last week that when the American Copy Editors Society convenes in New Orleans in 2012, it should offer a smackdown between Chicago and AP. This is a splendid idea. I am confident that Carol Fisher Saller could take David Minthorn and Darrell Christian, either singly or together. If wagering is permitted, I will put money on it.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:08 AM | | Comments (13)


I had a brief vision this morning of hyphenophiliacs going into a moist panties tizzy just on hearing the word email, unable to picture it without their beloved hyphen.

Your copy eh-duh-ting is top-notch. Er, top notch. No, wait...

I like the appearance of "e-mail" over "email", but who has time for an extra hyphen?

The bigger question is how do you think the MLA feels about not getting to smack either Chicago or AP in New Orleans? They have feelings too.

If I published the kind of prose that the MLA does, I wouldn't care to show my face in a group of copy editors.

Johnny "Maddog" McIntyre,


What a capital, jolly-fun idea---"a smackdown between CHICAGO and AP", at next year's annual copy editors' national confab in New Orleans. Too bad it couldn't be scheduled for Mardi Gras week, 2012. (On second thought, sobriety, and mild debauchery amongst the conference attendees might be an issue.......... never mind.)

Might I suggest a knock-down-drag-'em-out, clothing-optional, all-out mud-wrestling contest (well, maybe required skimpy diph-thongs to cover the battlers' 'private participles' .... HA!), since this whole devolving nasty on-line kerfuffle over should, or should NOT "e-mail" be a singular, or hyphenated word, has clearly degenerated into a classic mudslinging, bordering on tawdry, affair.

Let's just sit back, enjoy, and see whose official style manuel tag-team wins out in this 'egghead' slop-fest. Folks, bring your vinyl slickers, and Nor'wester chapeaux. It could get very messy, and ugly out there. Dangling participles, errant 'punchuation', and all manner of lexicographic skullduggery. Just sayin'.

Speaking of "anal'. Tell me, is "anal retentive" spelled with, or without a connecting hyphen? Anal-retentive minds would really like to know. HA! (Clearly I'm not playing any favorites here.)

Ducky "Here's Mud in Your Eye" isaksson........... over and knocked out.

P.S.: May the best copy editing team win! WWF, and you hulking Mixed Martial Artists (MMA) go eat your (steroid) inflated hearts out! These copy editors are darn GOOD!

I'm not a copy editor, but I read sites like this in hopes that will it help me gain consistency -- but not "correctness" -- in what I produce.

My basic guides are the NYT Manual of Style, the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and others. From these I've made up a personal stylebook and this kind of nitpicking is a waste of time, especially the peeving against the peevers.

But ... but, Mr. McLane, when you come across someone sporting a large 'KICK ME" sign, shouldn't you be obliging?

If I saw someone sporting a large "KICK ME" sign I wouldn't feel obliged to do anything as I have other more interesting to do.

A smackdown? Who knew that the "E" in "WWE" stood for "editors"?

With my French background, email without the hyphen makes me think of enamel, so I remain faithful to the hyphen, which I like to include anyway.

I will remember this the next time I send an email while wearing a tshirt in my aframe house because the insulation's rvalue is too high.

For non-native English speakers who may be wondering what the lower digestive anatomy has to do with this, it may be worth mentioning that English has, in addition to the well-known irregular verbs, many irregular adjectives, and "anal" is among them.

Here is its proper declension:

Third person: He/she is anal.
Second person: You are persnickety.
First person: I have a master craftsman's practiced eye for exquisite detail.


Thanks for your "anal" declension breakdown. (I suspect you intended some ironic humor in there, but bear w/ me.)

Respectfully, that 'first person' declension you've cited, namely, "I have a master craftsman's practiced eye for exquisite detail", just sounds like a wordy euphemism constructed by someone who has a personal reticence, dare I say skittishness, in simply saying something like, "I tend to be pretty anal." (Which these days is hardly an occasion for embarrassed blushing, or awkward pauses, from either the speaker, or the intended 'audience'.)

This "skittish" 'first person' clearly doesn't want anything to do w/ the reality that the 'anal" character label has a direct association with, in fact, the most distal region of, as you put it, anon, "the lower intestinal tract".

Not trying to be too persnickety about this whole (fecal?) matter, as the sagacious detective Sherlock Holmes explained to his 'all-ears', longtime sleuthing partner, the
loyal Dr. Watson after having just solved, "The Case of The Sphincter Revisited" *........ " What clued me on to the real killer, old boy? Why, it's perfectly 'ALIMENTARY', my dear Watson!"---------Enough said.

*Sir Conan Doyle's gritty "The Case of The Sphincter Revisited", sadly never did make it to print. His timid, anal-retentive, dare I say intellectually constipated, London publishers apparently balked when Doyle vociferously insisted that the first edition be printed on 2-ply, as opposed to the de rigeuer, 1-ply, coated stock. Such a pity. We've truly lost a literary treasure to 'posteriority'............. Oops! I meant "posterity".

(Wow!.........."posteriority" is an actual word. Who knew?)

Ducky "Slightly Flushed" Isaksson.............. enough w/ the potty humor!

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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