Which is the correct way to spell ebook?

Posted by Sarah Bainbridge

Woman thinking how to spell the word ebook.

People spell ebook in different ways, both online and offline. You will find all the known variations have been used in both digital and printed books. But which is the correct format? Has it been officially standardised somewhere? In this article you'll find out where the word originated and how it should be used.

Ebook stands for Electronic Book. But there is no definitive or standardised way to write the singular or plural form. Even online dictionaries differ. Purists will prefer we use e-book as they would with e-mail. Some people capitalise the E (Ebook) while others the B (eBook.) Don't worry though, there is no Department of Word Standardisation, so the Grammar Police will not hunt you down and insist you refrain from spelling it the way you do. You write it as you wish. There is no posh way or trashy way. An ebook is an e-book ... is an eBook ... is an Ebook.

Here at Obooko we tend to use ebook without the hyphen, which seems to be the most popular form of usage … perhaps because it’s the easiest? Inserting a hyphen or switching to caps takes up valuable typing time!

While on the subject of standardisation, did you know there is no standard size for free PDF books either? You may have noticed the PDFs you download from Obooko do not all have the same dimensions. This is because American authors provide their manuscripts in US-letter or half-letter format, while British authors supply theirs as A4 and A5. Paper sizes, in each country differ; especially the sheets supplied for home printers. Standardisation of PDFs therefore is not going to happen any day soon. We'll leave that one for the Department of Letter Sizes.

IT technician attending to server.The word ebook is actually a misnomer. The E stands for electronic, which is a word that usually refers to a device; a tablet, phone or laptop for instance, that uses electric current to function. Ebook files however are inert until electric current is used to mobilise them. An ebook is much the same as any other digital file-type, like a Word document or image file; basically, it’s a bunch of pixels that can be moved from one hard-drive to another via the electric current supplied by a device, and stored as data in an arrangement of the numerals one and zero.  Ebooks therefore are not strictly electronic, they are 'digital', the E should be a D for digital. Whoever coined the word ebook obviously didn't receive the D-mail.

This makes you think doesn’t it? Is the Web real or is it an illusion? You are staring into your phone, tablet or computer right now ... the device is tangible and therefore real, right? But what's all that stuff on the screen? It stimulates only two of our senses: you can only see or hear it; you can't touch, taste or smell it.  Are we all staring into an alternate reality?

Where did the word ebook originate?

You may find this surprising, but nobody is quite sure who invented the ebook or coined the phrase Electronic Book. There are a few candidates for the honours though:

Ángela Ruiz Robles (1949)

Ángela was a teacher from León, Spain, who patented a device called the Enciclopedia Mecánica (Mechanical Encyclopedia) to minimise the amount of books her students carried to school. It ran on compressed air, utilising spools that contained text and graphics, which were loaded onto rotating spindles.  Not quite sure how this worked but reading one of these books on a train would have made you unpopular.

Roberto Busa (1949–1970s)

Robert created an electronic index to the works of Thomas Aquinas, which he commenced in 1949 and completed in the 1970s. The work was stored on a single computer but a CD-ROM was created in 1989. Did the CD contain the first ebook?

Doug Engelbart and Andries van Dam (1960s)

Doug Engelbart headed the NLS project at Stanford Research Institute, while the Hypertext Editing System and FRESS (File Retrieval and Editing SyStem) projects were headed up by Andries van Dam at Brown University.  Documents created with FRESS ran on mainframe IBM computers and used dynamic formatting to display different window sizes, indexes, TOCs and graphics along with hyperlinking as we know it today.

What’s more, Andries is accepted as the originator of the term ‘electronic book’ which was used in an article title in 1985.

Michael S. Hart (1971)

Apparently, Michael typed a plain text version of the United States Declaration of Independence into a Xerox Sigma V mainframe computer at the University of Illinois. His idea was to create text files that could be downloaded and viewed on other devices.

Which candidate do you favour as the inventor?

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