Uncle Matthew: E-book or eBook?

A question from one of my lovely readers:

I am instructor at a local community college. A question has come up:  do we capitalize the "e" in eBook when it is the first word in a sentence?

I replied:

Yes, this is a tricky one. I have a client who sells equipment for eBanking and they have the same problem.

Have you heard the story about the man who went to his doctor and said ‘Hey, doc, it hurst when I do this.’ The doctor replied ‘Don’t do it then’.

In other words, just write sentences that don’t start with eBook! :)

Failing that, you could hyphenate it at the beginning of a sentence, e.g.

E-book or E-banking.

I suppose it would be okay to capitalise it thus Ebooks and then use eBooks in the rest of the text. But it’s tough one, isn’t it?

What do you think? Let’s crowdsource this knotty punctuation problem.

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25 Responses to Uncle Matthew: E-book or eBook?

  1. Andrew Munro June 4, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    The Economist Style Guide – that essential volume of wisdom and surprising wit suggests for “e-expressions” that: “Except at the start of a sentence, the e- is lower case and hyphenated: e-business, e-commerce, e-mail.” That implies e-book, or “E-book” at the start of a sentence. Things begin to look a bit ungainly if you drop the hyphen, but there certainly seems to be that trend in common words like “email”. If that were the case, I’d follow the same rule and have “ebook” or “Ebook” … though I think I hanker after the hyphen.

    • Matthew Stibbe June 4, 2011 at 10:36 am #

      Ordinarily, the Economist Style Guide is a kind of bible for me but in this case I’m not sure I agree. I think the hyphen looks fussy. But I really like the idea of dehyphenating and decapitalising the word completely. So it’s just ‘ebooks’ (and ‘ebanking’) by analogy to email. Simple. Workable. I like it.

  2. Andrew Yeomans June 4, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I’d ask e.e.cummings !

    • Matthew Stibbe June 4, 2011 at 11:36 am #

      He’s good on the ‘Es’ but bad on the capitalisation! :)

  3. Andrew Munro June 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    If you read e.e.cummings on an iPad, does he become e.e.e.cummings?

    • Matthew Stibbe June 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      Or is it. i.e.e. cummings? And what if he becomes a fellow of the International Institute of Electrical Engineers and becomes i.e.e. cummings f.i.e.e.. And then someone refers to him thus, i.e. i.e.e. cummings f.i.e.e.

      (Stop this. It’s silly.)

  4. TC/The Writer Underground June 4, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    Just went through this with a client over “enewsletter.”

    The Associated Press just recently removed the hyphen from email, so I figure all the “e” words are likely headed that way, so why not just do it now and get it over with?

    I’m either a visionary, or extraordinarily lazy.

  5. Peter Cooper June 4, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

    Till very recently I was a hardcore stick in the mud, favoring “e-book” or “e-mail” over the alternatives any day, due in no small part to the Chicago Manual of Style. Now I’ll let “ebook” and “email” slide by, as long as it’s consistent.

    What I take umbrage with here is “eBook.” That doesn’t click at all for me. It’s akin to writing “eMail.” So to your reader, I’d suggest going with either “e-book”/”E-book” or “ebook”/”Ebook” but to avoid “eBook” at all costs.

    • Matthew Stibbe June 5, 2011 at 9:01 am #

      This is a good case of language evolving, isn’t it. Like Internet becoming internet. Generally, I’m in favour of too much punctuation and capitalisation. They’re speedbumps for the reader’s eye.

  6. Mungo Amyatt-Leir June 5, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    As one with a obstinate hyphen in one’s name I’m all for removing them wherever possible. They look ungainly. So that’s ebooks in my, erm, book.

    Please let us not use eBooks. I think that’s just iApple talk permeating our language and usage.

    That all said, in my perfect world I’d prefer them to be called ‘books’. Plain and simple. After all that’s what they are in whatever form you read them.

    • Matthew Stibbe June 5, 2011 at 9:03 am #

      Spelling aside, I don’t think I agree with you, here, Mungo. (Which is unusual because we agree about most other things.) I think ebooks are distinct from regular books. A new thing with a new name. A bit like email and mail. But the prefix I hate is cyber-. I really don’t like people talking about cybercrime or cyberwarfare. There has been a lot of coverage recently about the UK’s new interest in cyberwarfare and the military often abbreviate it to just ‘cyber’. Ghastly.

  7. Ashly Lorenzana June 5, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    This is a question worth asking, and I think the comments before mine all offer interesting and valid points. In my personal opinion, I agree with dropping the hyphen from all words preceded by the letter “e.” However, I do think that the “B” in “books” should stay capital, while the “e” is kept lower case. I just think it is easier to read that way, since “ebooks” or “enewsletter” look extremely awkward to me at first glance. I think “eBooks” or “eNewsletter” distinguishes those words as digital much more clearly from the moment my eyes read them, but it’s a personal preference. The fact that there is so many opinions on this goes to show that the rules of language and what is “correct” are far from set in stone and always up for debate, regardless of what manual you are going by.

    • Matthew Stibbe June 5, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Thanks for your contribution. It does feel like an uncomfortable choice between equally awkward alternatives, doesn’t it? Certainly, to my eyes an ‘enewsletter’ feels very ungainly but ‘ebook’ (without capitals) less so. Also, my feeling is that a plain, old-fashioned ‘newsletter’ covers the electronic variety better than a plain ‘book’ embraces ‘ebooks’ but that’s just me.

  8. Ashly Lorenzana June 5, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    Actually I completely agree with you, Matthew. I came close to adding a sentence to explain that I find “ebook” less weird than “enewsletter.” This is likely only a result of “ebook” being more commonly used and therefore, more often encountered when reading. I hadn’t thought of the fact that “newsletter” really doesn’t need any “e” to distinguish it from any other type of newsletter. I guess there are only a couple of potential scenarios that would really necessitate adding the “e.” Good point.

  9. Paul Lagasse June 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    I’d like to see the “e-” distinction eventually disappear altogether, and return to using “mail” and “newsletter” and “book,” etc. with the format distinction clarified in context when required. The “e-” prefix is approaching its sell-by date; the generation of readers and writers who were born into e-everything has reached maturity, and for them the distinction may be simply redundant.

    Of course the distinction is necessary when explicitly discussing methods of distribution (e.g., when discussing communications channels in a marketing campaign). But when the format can be assumed in context, or when it isn’t really germane, will it continue to be necessary to make the distinction?

    • Matthew Stibbe June 6, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

      Yes, that seems to be the consensus, I think. How are you doing Paul? Matthew

  10. Bill Bennett June 7, 2011 at 5:48 am #

    This gets my vote, except I think we can make an exception for email because the term is so widely used.

    All the other eWords are frankly, pretentious and stupid. They deserve to be taken out and eShot.

  11. TC/The Writer Underground June 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    What happens when a client offers both print and email versions of their newsletter? The same goes for books (“e” and otherwise).

    I think we’re a decade away from doing away with “e” nouns, maybe even a generation…

    • Paul Lagasse June 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

      Does “print and digital” work?

      • TC/The Writer Underground June 8, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

        They would, but they could grow pretty cumbersome in copy, and they’re a lot longer than “enewsletter” and “newsletter.”

        I don’t find the “e” words as objectionable as some do, figuring we’re getting a fair amount of value for just one letter…

  12. jude June 23, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    The hyphenated version, in my eyes, is transitional and timid. I consider the whole “e” business transitional as well, but that’s a battle with a much longer timeline.

    Personally I loathe the capitalization of the “e” in “ebook” at the start of sentences. I prefer to capitalize the second letter. I realize this is not a popular approach.

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