Grammar and Technology

file0002054526820One of the things I love about the English language is its fluidity—how it evolves over time. But as an editor and writer, that characteristic is also one of the most frustrating things about my mother tongue. For instance, how do we keep up with the rapidly changing terms we use to describe what has sprung forth from the computer revolution? Do we consult style manuals, major newspapers? Take a consensus from our peers? See what’s being used on the Internet? And should you even capitalize “Internet” anymore? Is it a registered trademark? Is Al Gore collecting royalties, or are they being swapped for carbon credits?

For instance, back in the portal salad days of the 1990s, one of the bigger discussions going on in the marketing department of my workplace was whether you “log on” or “log in” to some aspect of the web (which the Chicago Manual of Style, in a recent development, allowed to be lowercased when used generically). I forget which version won. According to the brand-spanking-new 2013 edition of the AP Stylebook, the still-wet inky smell of which I recently inhaled (yeah, I’m a geek; don’t judge me), the protocol has expanded. Your user name and password, or whatever combination of letters, numbers, and interrobangs gets you access to the goodies on the site of your choice, is your “logon” or “login,” and is used as a noun. Having decided that a website (lower case, one word, no hyphen) is a virtual location but not something of substance that can be stepped on, leaned against, or placed atop, the Associated Press made the call: you log in to your favorite little corner of the Internet (Internet is still capitalized, and I will forever try to use this phrase whenever possible, just to annoy Rich Meyer.)

The camelizing (yes, this is a word, or it will be soon) that occurred when Steve Jobs and company went iMac drove us nuts for a while. That lowercase “i” (which took me three tries to get my autocorrect to stop autocorrecting into a capital letter) got slapped in front of everything. This resulted in much confusion, mainly what do you do when you need to start a sentence with “iPad” or “iMac” or “iAmbic pentameter?” (Kidding about that last one.) Well, according to my faithful doorstop, er, Chicago Manual of Style, you don’t. You recast your sentence so it begins with something else, like, “Sales of iPads are through the iRoof!”

The e-revolution was another watershed moment for grammarians. Actually, it’s been a revolving series of watershed moments, to the point where I’m starting to feel a bit dizzy. We began by sending e-mail. We’ve been sending e-mail for quite some time, although Europe danced ahead of us and ditched the hyphen years before Jay Z dispensed with his. Two of the most gossiped-about changes to the 2013 AP Stylebook release included allowing the use of “hopefully” to begin a sentence, and that “e-mail” had officially lost its hyphen in the US. Hopefully, it used protection. But the still-chaste Chicago, my manual of choice for editing, has retained its punctuation virginity.

Our newest e-friends, e-books and e-readers, are becoming an e-problem. But let’s back up a tad and consider “eBay,” another popular camelization. This is a trademark. That’s cool; they ponied up for it and more power to them. I’ve bought a lot of cool things there, including my little friend here.

op_flatWhen we authors could finally upload our manuscripts to Amazon and other sites, we had electronic books. Lately I’ve been seeing “eBook” everywhere, which, considering the eBay factor, looks like a trademark. But it isn’t. It’s used on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and most other sites from which you can download one. Preserving some sort of word-salad sanity is probably what pushed the AP and Chicago to call it an e-book (lowercase, hyphenated) once and—well, for now, anyway. And the device you view e-books on? We’re still not completely settled about that, but since no company has yet trademarked the camelized version, we’re sticking with e-reader (lowercase, hyphenated) for the time being.

Okay, now that this conundrum is solved (for the moment), I’m off to send a few e-mails and then download an e-book to my e-reader, which is actually an iPad. Oy.

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11 thoughts on “Grammar and Technology

  1. Lynne Cantwell (@LynneCantwell) says:

    Opus! 🙂

    I have a recurring argument with one of the guys I work for, who always drops the hyphen in “e-mail.” I finally convinced him to include it in his time entries, as it’s company style (oh haha, like anybody else adheres to it) and as he insists on closing his entries before I can get at them to fix it. Good to know that hyphen is gone in the wider world, though.

    I’m still going back and forth on “e-book/ebook.” At least pronunciation of the word is pretty clear without it — which is not the case for “ereader.” (Ere what?)

  2. acflory says:

    eEk. 😉 I’m afraid I dropped all hyphens long ago. Luckily my stories are set so far in the future I’m sure emails are obsolete, so I won’t have to mention them except perhaps as an oddity like the tel-e-Gram? Apologies! This was simply too good to resist. 😀

  3. Susan in TX says:

    I’m currently writing Part 1 of a first-love-second-chance romance, set in 1991. No e’s or i’s to worry about. I’m guessing that when I get to Part 2 and 2014, the hyphens will have given it up. Seriously, thanks for the post. Very helpful.

    • laurieboris says:

      You’re welcome, Susan, and thanks for visiting. I’m drifting back to 1987 for my next one. No “i” or “e” anything, either. The freedom! (Of course, there are other things to worry about.)

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