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E-mail - what's in a name?

By Jennifer Stewart
Posted Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Estimates of the number of people currently connected to the Internet vary, from 60 million to 100 million and upwards. If we accept the conservative figure of 60 million, and surmise that each person sends and receives ONE email message every day, that means there are 120 million email messages whirling about every single day.

How many email messages were waiting for you when you logged on today? I'll hazard a guess and suggest that it would have been somewhat more than one!

A report from the Jupiter organisation estimates that commercial e-mail spending will grow from $164 million in 1999 to $7.3 billion in 2005 - this represents an estimated forty-fold increase in e-mail volume.

It's also estimated that the average number of commercial e-mail messages that US online consumers receive per year will increase from 40 in 1999 to over 1,600 in 2005; non-marketing and personal correspondence will more than double from approximately 1,750 in 1999 to almost 4,000 in 2005.

So it's no exaggeration to say that one of the fastest growing methods of communication is email. In fact, we're in the middle of a communications revolution and it's ironic that we're once again relying on one of the earliest forms of mass communication - the written word.

Language is a dynamic, living thing and in the past, has been able to keep pace with changes; so, when electricity was invented (or discovered - depending on your view of the world), it was given a name which comes from elektron the Greek word for "amber" and electrum, the Latin word for "amber" - the alloy of gold and silver. In the mid 1600s it was known that rubbing amber or glass would produce a magnetic effect that attracted light weight materials, threads, dust etc and this was the only known use for electricity for many years - until that fellow with the kite came along!

The first big break-through in rapid mass communication, the telegraph, takes its name from two Greek words: tele meaning "far off" and graphein "to write, draw or represent by lines".

Television is a mix of the Greek tele and Latin visus, past participle of the verb "to see".

Computers were given a name which is derived from the Latin computatio - a reckoning, because in the early days, that's all they did.

But, as with many phenomena which have burst onto the scene in the last decade, the World Wide Web has outstripped our store of words. We've grabbed at a stop-gap solution and come up with the prefix "E" to describe anything to do with the Internet, so there's e-commerce, e-books and e-mail.

Since e-mail is here to stay, now is the time to come up with some sensible terms to describe it - let's start sending each other e-notes - that's a quick and efficient term to describe a quick and efficient method of communication!

Just because we're using a system that is fast, doesn't mean that we have to become lazy in our use of language. Because it's so easy to send an e-note to one person or a thousand people, the temptation is to treat e-mail more as if it's a note on the fridge door, than as a legitimate, serious form of communication.

You scribble a note to stick on the fridge door to tell your kids to feed the dog before they go to music lessons:

Feed Spot be4 u go xxxx Mum

Your daughter leaves a note that she's gone next door to do her homework:

At Kath's - hist test 2morrow - ugh! Seeya

We know what these messages mean, but they're hardly the sort of thing you want anyone outside the family to see and yet, every day thousands - millions - of messages just like this are flying through cyberspace! Messages that use symbols, numbers and abbreviations to convey complex ideas and thoughts.

Need info on midi sites pronto. Pls send all URLs 2 me.

IMHO best site on web is Wish I had their hits LOL

Me too ;)

Not everyone is familiar with the use of abbreviations, symbols and 'emoticons' and it's very easy to miss subtleties of meaning. E-mail IS a legitimate form of communication these days - and there are a number of conventions that have emerged to govern its use. Read about how to avoid costly and embarrassing mistakes in your e-mail.

The Internet has made it possible for us to communicate with people from all over the world - and the only way those people can form an opinion about us, is by looking at the way we write. If you feel that you could do with a refresher course in writing, or just a few tips to improve your expression, then visit ( and spend some time reading the free articles on site.

About the Author
Jennifer Stewart began offering professional writing services and now has clients from around the globe. Any writing needs can be met, including web pages, press releases, advertising material, business reports, content for autoresponders, technical booklets and articles for newsletters. Visit ( for more details or subscribe to free Writing Tips (


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