It’s Definitely Time To Drop The Hyphen From Ecommerce

Anthony Tanner saw this coming.

Way back in ancient 2011, the very prescient blogger at EcommerceDoctor.com suggested dropping the hyphen from “e-commerce”, making it ecommerce. At the time “e-commerce” was still a more popular search term, so he was risking significant social ridicule to assert his opinion.

He got it absolutely right, though. “E-mail” became “email”. “Ebook” is more popular than “e-book”. “Web site” became “website”, and “web log” became “blog”. Major players like Shopify, Bigcommerce and others use ecommerce without a hyphen.

Wikipedia and HowStuffWorks, on the other hand, are a little slow to the party. (It’s somewhat understandable- codified tomes are the last to adapt to changes “on the ground”.)

ecommerce-wikipedia
C’mon, Wikipedia! Get with the program!

Google itself can be a little inconsistent about this, using Ecommerce in the header and reintroducing the hyphen in the bullets: (the following is from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1009612?hl=en)

ecommerce-google
Et tu, Google?

How are we supposed to navigate this mess?

According to The Economist’s style guide:

“There is no firm rule to help you decide which words are run together, hyphenated or left separate. In general, try to avoid putting hyphens into words formed of one word and a short prefix, so asexual, biplane, declassify… upended, tetravalent, etc. But long words thus formed and unfamiliar combinations, especially if they would involve running several consonants together, may benefit from a hyphen, so cross-reference (though crossfire), demi-paradise, over-governed, under-secretary.”

Phew, that was a trip! But look again and pay careful attention to how the reasoning flows. “Unfamiliar combinations… may benefit from a hyphen.” 

  • Language ultimately exists to serve meaningful communication.  This was why we initially needed the entire phrase “electronic mail”. When that term started to become common use, it became “e-mail”, and finally, email. The term is now so common that we need retronyms to emphasize the distinctino from from “regular” mail, or “snail mail”.
  • Language constantly adapts to suit the needs of communication in any given context. This is why modifiers like “LOL” have emerged to communicate tone. Consider “I’m going to kill you, lol”. It might seem like “bad english”, but the “lol” actually serves an important purpose in communicating the tone of the sender. It adds meaning to the message.
  • Ecommerce isn’t the only word to lose its hyphen. Other words that have lost their hyphens include “bumble-bee”, “chick-pea”, “cry-baby”, “leap-frog”. This is a natural process that happens to heavily-used terms and phrases.
  • Ultimately, language is an art more than a science.Time and again people have defied whatever’s been codified in grammar and style manuals… and gotten away with it. Shakespeare himself brazenly made stuff up all the time.
  • The only way to get really good at language is to use it, frequently. Read and write heavily enough, and you’ll find that linguistic choices become significantly easier. At that stage, language becomes your plaything. It exists entirely to serve your message.

So, agreed that we all drop the hyphen? Great!

What about the capital C, though? Kill it. You don’t see anybody typing “eMail” anymore, do you? That looks a little silly now. It will be no different with “eCommerce”. Let’s get that one out of the way early.

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