Language evolves. Hyphenates evolve rapidly. For example, remember when email was ‘e-mail’? Over time—whether by design, accident, or sheer laziness—that hyphen faded from use, and eventually the keepers of the style keys had to recognize this change.
Even the Chicago Manual of Style acknowledges that hyphenates have a short shelf life. “With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed (‘on line’ to ‘on-line’ to ‘online’). Chicago’s general adherence to Webster’s does not preclude occasional exceptions when the closed spellings have become widely preferred by writers (e.g., ‘website’) and pronunciation and readability are not at stake.” (CMOS 7.79)
So it comes as no surprise that, in the short history of electronic discovery, ‘ediscovery’ quickly surpassed ‘e-discovery’ in relative search volume on Google (ediscovery is in blue, and e-discovery is in red):
Yet something curious also happened as ‘ediscovery’ ascended to its inevitable victory: the industry settled on ‘eDiscovery’ with a capital D. Indeed, every news headline represented by the letters on the above chart references ‘eDiscovery’ rather than the simpler and, frankly, more logical ‘ediscovery’. After an exhaustive review of the evidence (i.e., 10 minutes on Google), I’ve figured out the cause: the iPhone.
Yes, before the iPhone there was eBay, iRobot, eMachines, and even the iMac, but it was the iPhone that cemented this particular CamelCase style in the popular vernacular. It even spawned an entire new category, the iDevice.
Comparing ediscovery/e-discovery and the iPhone’s history, you can see that the hyphenate had its steepest drop (and ‘eDiscovery’ its biggest gain) in January of 2007, the same month that Steve Jobs announced the iPhone to a riveted crowd at the Macworld 2007 conference in San Francisco. Within six months, ‘eDiscovery’ quickly caught up to ‘e-discovery’, reaching parity just two months after the first iPhone was released in June of 2007. From there, it was a slow and steady decline for ‘e-discovery’, which now receives 40% fewer hits on Google than its CamelCase counterpart.
But now that capital D has become vestigial, if it ever served a function at all. ‘eDiscovery’ is not a brand name or a product category. It’s just another word for electronic discovery, which, like electronic mail before it, has beaten out its analog counterpart to become the norm. So, from here on out, let’s normalize the word and call it simply ‘ediscovery’ (or ‘Ediscovery’, when you start a sentence with the word).
Next time you write about ediscovery, resist the temptation to reach for that shift key, and enjoy the feeling of being one step ahead of the iPhone.