What about Those Techy Terms?

I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment going over hyphenation as it applies to technology-related words. This is an area of our vocabulary that grows right along with our expanding technological world. Language is always changing, but technology words present a special challenge to the writer. Mostly because many grammar guides that are written for the tech industry have rules that conflict with The Chicago Manual of Style.

Technological words are coined by folks who are more interested in technology than grammar. They are often programmers who are confined by requirements that demand the use of a single string of characters. That explains why these types of compound words begin their vocabulary life as closed terms and are most likely to be adopted that way for general use.

Here again, context is critical.

  • Scientific or technical publications are more likely to use the closed form, for example: screensaver, fileserver, and screenshot.
  • General-purpose publications will render them open: screen saver, file server, screen shot.

Here are the current guidelines for a few frequently used technology terms:

  • Electronic is shortened to e- to identify anything and everything transmitted digitally or electronically, so e-mail, e-book, e-commerce are all hyphenated. But when a proper noun follows the prefix, there’s no hyphen, such as eBay.

The best example of the progression of a word from introduction to mainstream usage is website. It has evolved from the capitalized open rendering (Web site) to the current, almost universally accepted lowercase closed version: website. Some journalistic publications may retain the older variation.

CMOS recognizes web as a generic term when used alone or in combination with other words. Thus webcam, webcast, webmaster are acceptable, but the compound adjective web-related is hyphenated.

Where would we be without Wi-Fi? We all know it as the technology that enables us to connect to the Internet wherever we are, but exactly what it stands for and how to render it is up for debate. This seems to be one of those words in transition. Look for a definitive rendering once it’s actually accepted as part of the general vernacular. For now, you may see Wi-Fi, wifi, or WiFi. Check the style guide for the publication or publisher you’re writing for, if applicable.

Do many writers follow the convention to hyphenate words like e-book and e-mail? Probably not. In my writing I use ebook and email. This is another case of style preference to me, since it seems most publications, whether techy or not, tend to use those variations. I’m guessing that in time the closed-up tech words will become the rule.

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  1. As a techie, I am grateful you took the time to cover these terms! For words with more than one acceptable spelling, I strongly suggest that writers who use the words frequently make a list of their preferred spellings. I’ve seen people use several spellings of the same word in their writing (I’ve done it myself, plenty of times), and it doesn’t take long to do a Find and Replace.

  2. I have always wanted to be a technical writer. But, with no experience in it, it’s hard for people to take a chance on you. I think that Wi-fi is the best thing that they could have invented. I think we would all be lost without it.

  3. I am NOT a technie, so I really appreciate the lesson here. Technology is part of our everyday lives, so as writers, we should know the proper usage for the terminology. Thanks!

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