e-mail or email

electronic mail

E-mail is mail that's electronically transmitted by your computer. As opposed to snail mail, e-mail sends your messages instantaneously, anywhere in the world. It is the killer app of the Internet because of its capability to send messages at any time, to anyone, for less money than mailing a letter or calling someone on the telephone. In fact, there are now more e-mail addresses than telephone numbers in the world, and more people have multiple e-mail addresses than multiple telephone numbers. Linked by high-speed data connections that create a global network, e-mail lets you compose messages and transmit them in seconds to one or more recipients across the office, the street, or the country. All you need to get started is an e-mail account, an online connection, a computer, and an e-mail program.

We advocate spelling "e-mail" with a hyphen since it is a term that describes "electronic" mail. There are many other Internet terms that have an "e" in front of them, such as e-commerce, e-journal, and e-cards, and these, too, are spelled with a hyphen since they represent the electronic form of something. Conversely, "etailing," "ecruiting," and "elancer" are plays on words, and while these things do use electronic media to accomplish their goals, the "e" does not specifically stand for "electronic." More often than not, putting an "e" in front of a word is a marketing ploy. (Incidentally, we list e-mail both ways on NetLingo.com because many people search for it without using the hyphen.) The word "e-mail" is used in a variety of ways.

In one sense, it acts like a noun, as in, "an e-mail," which can be used like "a letter" (or a package or a message). When one compares e-mail to regular mail and the postal system, it can be viewed as the actual letters or messages you are "sending and receiving." For example, "I checked my P.O. Box, and there were four letters. I checked my in-box, and there were eighty-four e-mails." In another sense, the "e" in e-mail acts as an adjective. It describes "electronic" mail the way "snail" mail describes slow, printed mail, or "junk" mail describes some forms of direct marketing. In this instance, one would say, "I used e-mail to send four messages." The "e" in e-mail describes a system (electronic), just as "snail" in snail mail describes a system that is slow.

The word "e-mail" is frequently used in the online world as a verb. Some grammarians may not agree with this usage, but NetLingo is here to report how Internet terms are actually being used. You may hear, "You didn't get the memo? Strange, I e-mailed it to you yesterday."

Overall, thanks to e-mail, communication has taken on a new form. Not only has the style of writing changed because of the amount of typing involved (for example, many users type in all lowercase), but the attitude or tone used online is more casual, as well (thanks, or not, to chat acronyms and smileys). Because messages are quick and instant, and because it is easy to send many messages at once, fram lists have evolved within offices, families, and groups of friends, circulating jokes, news, petition lists, and so on (it is OK in terms of proper netiquette to simply ask to be removed from a particular distribution list). Spam, on the other hand, is a problem for people who get inundated with marketing messages and we've been advised not to respond with a request for removal because then you are validating the fact that there's a live person at the other end of that particular e-mail address.

Historical perspective: During the year 2005, 130 billion e-mail messages were sent each day. Worldwide email traffic increased to 247 billion e-mail messagesper day in 2009. And by 2013, worldwide email traffic was at 507 billion e-mail messages per day.

TIPS ON WRITING OFFICE E-MAIL: There are three main categories of e-mail: spam, fram, and e-mail sent at the office. In a typical modern office, thousands of internal messages are sent daily between colleagues and management, and thousands of external messages are sent to clients and vendors. E-mail has become a primary mode of communication at work and in the process, it has raised some questionable manners. Keep these guidelines in mind:

(1) Do not rely on e-mail to address problems. If there is a sticky situation that needs to be dealt with at work, do it face-to-face. It will earn you respect in the long run.
(2) Balance work-related e-mail with telephone calls. E-mail may enhance a business relationship but it will not necessarily build one. If you've corresponded via e-mail with someone for the past couple of months, pick up the phone and have a conversation with that person as well.
(3) Intentional or not, e-mail can sometimes come across as rude. Be careful, one colleague had to ask another to communicate verbally because she was offended by the tone of her e-mail. It is easy to misread between the lines so at work, try to be extra polite.
(4) Send mature messages at work. If you use emoticons such as this smiley :-) in business e-mail, it may be interpreted as too casual. Just be straightforward and always use the spell checker.
(5) Don't respond immediately. It is easy to hit the reply button and type up a quick response, but this has downsides. You will appear to be constantly reachable to colleagues, and too eager to clients or upper management. Unless it is urgent wait a couple of hours to respond so you can form a plan, and keep focused on your task at hand.
(6) Always make a point. The free flowing nature of e-mail encourages a casual style and back-and-forth communication, but make sure at work, each message has a purpose.
(7) Do not type in all lower case and conversely, DO NOT TYPE IN ALL UPPERCASE. Uppercase implies that you are shouting, and lowercase is still viewed as too casual in the business world.


(1) Don't be too straight forward with your questions. In some cultures, a question such as "Were the deal numbers checked against the source?" would strike someone as an accusation or slap in the face.
(2) Expect all communication to be broadcast. In the States, forwarding a one-on-one e-mail is a breach of etiquette, but in group-focused cultures like China and India where building consensus requires keeping everyone in the loop, it's expected.
(3) Adjust your response time. Not all cultures move on Internet time. Because certain cultures have a strong sense of hierarchy, some replies will probably require extended consultation with superiors. Demanding a fast response from a contractor in South Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East can alienate the very people you need to help you (resulting in silence or false promises).

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NetLingo Classification: Net Technology
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