The recent announcement from the Associated Press that it was dropping the hypen in email sent language traditionalists into a dither, but if the concern is poor writing, there are bigger issues to focus on.

The AP Stylebook, the most widely used guide to editorial style in business and journalism, so its decisions influence writers and editors in the news business, in the publishing industry, and in corporations. The AP is cautious about adopting changes, to avoid latching on to trendy, arbitrary preferences, so this announcement raised eyebrows, because the AP had resisted making email and website one word for 17 years.

But the executive editor of the stylebook and a former editor of mine in the AP told me yesterday that the time had come, based on decisions by dictionaries, by other news organizations, and by prevailing usage throughout the country.

Some people are railing that such decisions reflect a continuing decline of the English language, but that’s a knee-jerk reaction. It struck me that those same people will routinely write “Judy Jones, the SVP of communications,” without putting in periods after the S, V, and P. Why not? We have used periods in abbreviations since at least the 1700s, yet we are doing it less and less. The periods have been disappearing, since the postal system’s technology removed them from state abbreviations in the 1990s. (It’s still all right to put them in.) Dropping the hyphen in email is a reflection of how our use of the language changes over time. Some changes might make you bristle, but given all the problems that lead to sloppy writing, this is not worth whipping yourself into a lather. 

There is a benefit to doing things consistently in the language–we all understand each other more easily–so I tend not to deviate from traditional practices, because there usually isn’t any need to. But if something clearly is of little consequence or is impractical, then I am open to possible changes.

    For those who are unfamiliar with a stylebook, it is blended grammar book and dictionary, with added guidance based on how our culture uses the language. Anyone who writes should have access to one. The Chicago Manual of Style is also an excellent resource, but it is less of a usage manual and it is not designed in alphabetical order.