[ih] Any suggestions for first uses of "e-mail" or "email"?

Jack Haverty jack at 3kitty.org
Tue Aug 4 10:11:42 PDT 2015

Good point, John.  Computer-based mail had been around for more than a
decade by the late 70s, and was on the radar of at least some parts of
the government.  I recall using CTSS mail back in the late 60s, as well
as similar services even on IBM mainframes.

I'd also suggest that the historians broaden the search for the genesis
of the term "email" beyond the work done by research and government

In particular, I think the "History of the Internet" must include
activities outside of what we often think of as the ARPANET and
TCP-based Internet.  I recall there were lots of other activities
creating new technologies using computers and communications, and the
ARPA-based work was only one of them.  The historians seem to have
forgotten about the rest.

Specifically, I remember that Xerox circa 1980 had a prominent presence
in the commercial arena, focused on computerized and networked systems
for business use and office automation, including what we would call
mail.   Bob Metcalfe was in the middle of that; he was also a product of
Lick/Vezza's group, working on ARPANET projects (and the early stages of
Ethernet) before leaving it to join Xerox PARC.

So, it's quite possible that the trade-press article in which I recall
first seeing "email" was reporting about some project at PARC, or some
discussions in the PTT/Postal world.  It may have had nothing to do with
our ARPANET-based electronic mail.   It probably wasn't the first use of
the term either.  We were far from alone in working with such ideas.

I also recall thinking at the time when I saw "email" that it was yet
another example of someone outside the technical cognoscenti attempting
to corral some complex technology under the umbrella of a new vague
buzzword, by attaching an "e" to the front of a well-known word, for use
with non-technical audiences.   I think there were lots of other
"e-xxxx" terms coined in that time frame.... but I can't recall any of them.

So, more places for the historians to research...


On 08/04/2015 07:58 AM, John Klensin wrote:
> On Sat, Jul 25, 2015 at 5:43 PM, Jack Haverty <jack at 3kitty.org> wrote:
>> After grubbing through my basement storage, I haven't found "email" in
>> any of my piles of old paper....sorry about that.
>> But I *do* recall the first time I saw the phrase "email", although not
>> exactly where and when that was.
>> Through the early and mid-70s, I was a student and subsequently staff
>> member in Professor Licklider's group at MIT project MAC.  Lick had been
>> promoting the ideas of man-computer synergy for a while -- how to use
>> the power of the computer to augment human communications.   While I was
>> there, he also returned for another tour of duty at ARPA; he bounced
>> back and forth between MIT and ARPA.
>> ...
>> None of the terminology we discussed then included "email" or "e-mail".
>> But I do still recall first seeing that term, and being discouraged that
>> all of the work and discussions about the breadth of computer-aided
>> human communications was being lumped into a single vague and ambiguous
>> term "email" (or maybe "e-mail").
>> The term was used in one of the trade publications popular at the time,
>> which had grown up around the emerging technologies of computer
>> networking.   I'm sorry I can't remember which one.  Most likely it was
>> Network World, or Communications Week, which were very popular at the
>> time and had discovered the world of networking.   It was a "newspaper"
>> type of publication, not a magazine or journal.   The kind of thing you
>> read while eating lunch.
>> ....
> Jack,
> My memory is very vague, and I certainly remember using just "mail"
> (or, when the distinction was important, "network mail" or "netmail"
> or other variations), but that part of the trade press seems likely as
> an originator and time.  The other possibility that occurs to me is
> that the term might have come out of one of the iterations with USPS
> about what they thought about the whole situation, whether it was a
> business they wanted to be in, own, or control, etc.  The first round,
> with Tom Van Vleck and Noel Morris during the CTSS period has been
> fairly well documented, but the were several others.   The stories I
> heard from some of those who were involved in the discussions were, in
> the rounds in which they cared,  the Post Office folks very clearly
> did not want to make a distinction between traffic within a host or
> between hosts.   Given that, and government bureaucrat-speak, one can
> easily imagine "email" or "e-mail" coming out.   However, that is pure
> speculation about another place to look, not any sort of claim or
> evidence.
>     john
>     (who was working on Lick's other, larger, project at the time)
> p.s. the recent micro-snit that spelled over onto the IETF list was
> about the RFC Editor having introduced macros or a style sheet that
> generated a spelling like "EMail" or "eMail".  I just couldn't imagine
> any benefit from yet another term or spelling.

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