Recent Example Of Language Change

The evolution of the term used to refer to what we now call 'email' provides an interesting example of ongoing language change. The word has migrated through language changes demonstrating, in turn, the contemporary tendency to:

• adopt abbreviations,

• drop capital letters,

Even though the term for electronic mail was first used publicly 1975-1980, the 1984 edition of the Random House dictionary lists only 'electronic data processing' and 'electronic music' with no entry for 'electronic mail'. Then, as the practice of sending mail by computer became more common, the entry added a capital letter to create 'Electronic mail', as if to acknowledge its importance.

Then, following post-modern trends in English to drop capitals and accept abbreviations, the 1992 Random House Dictionary drops the capital 'E' and lists 'electronic mail', and includes as a separate entry, 'E-mail', interestingly enough giving the abbreviation a capital 'E'. However by 1997 the dictionary drops the 'E' and the entry becomes 'e-mail'. Finally following current trends to drop hyphens and form a single word, by 2001 even the conservative Oxford University Press' Oxford Dictionary of Current English lists 'email' as the correct spelling. Further dictionaries now list the word as a verb as well as a noun. Presumably this completes the evolution of the accepted term for electronic mail, giving us a fine example of how rapidly the English language is changing.

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