I Introduction

During last decade since its birth in 1997 in the United States (Relyea 2002), e-government has virtually galloped to occupy the centre stage in governance worldwide, in developed as well as in developing countries. Equally remarkably e-government has found almost universal ready acceptance1 (DESA 2005), as if every one was just waiting it to happen to address, among other things, the vexing issues of improved public policy formulation and public service delivery. Such a remarkable development in such a short period of time is unprecedented in history of governance. This development has also placed a responsibility on both the e-government academicians as well as on its practitioners to develop sound conceptual foundations for e-government. Time has also come to set the e-government terminology in order as the initial novelty and sheen of e-government have started wearing off and e-government has started showing signs of stability, maturity and long-term sustainability.

[1 179 out of 191 (94%) member states of the United Nations had online presence in 2005. Twelve countries which did not have online presence are:1.Central African Republic, 2. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 3. Democratic Republic of the Congo, 4. Equatorial Guinea, 5. Guinea-Bissau, 6. Haiti, 7. Kiribati, 8. Liberia, 9. Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, 10. Somalia, 11. Turkmenistan, and 12. Zambia (DESA 2005)]. 

Conceptual foundations for any discipline are necessary, more so for a new, rapidly evolving discipline like e-government. Conceptual foundations provide necessary clarifications which help us to remove ambiguities in terminology and provide clarity of meaning, describe scope and content of various terms and attempt to standardize their usage facilitating communication within the e-government community of practice (COP) as well as outside it. This helps the development of e-government discipline. It also helps e-government practitioners to proceed with e-government with a direction, thus accelerating the pace of e-government practice and development.

II Spelling of E-government Terms

There appears to be a free-for-all environment for spelling the frequently used terms in e-government according to one’s fancy including spelling acronyms and abbreviations (eGov: Isn’t it cute? Yes, it is. But what does it mean? E-governance or e-government or, much worse, both). This does not befit a discipline. Moreover, a spelling may have profound meaning and a term spelt in two different ways may have two entirely different meanings as is the case, say, with “World Wide Web” (three words) and  “WorldWideWeb” (one word) or may have governance implications as is the case with “Internet” and “internet.”

E-government or eGovernment?

Currently e-government is spelled in a number of confusing ways – eGovernment, egovernment, eGov, E-gov, Egov, etc. Heeks (2004)’ eGovernment for Development website recommends eGovernment (at the start of sentences) and e-government (lower case). Three rules could be proposed here: Rule 1. Spell these words the way you like and stick to them. (The down side of this rule is present confusion in spelling e-government terms. The up side is that it has preferred consistency in usage). Rule 2:  Never, ever, spell a term differently in the same text or in the same organization (This requires issue of a note of practice, if not standardization of terminology). Rule 3: Develop a reason-based, unambiguous spelling of e-government terms and promote their use.

Illustration to Rule 3: The term “electronic government” has two words. If we wish to join them, a hyphen is required to be placed between them making electronic-government one word. However, since this one word is also long, defeating the very purpose of the exercise, it requires further contraction. As “e” as an abbreviation of “electronic” is widely understood, the word can be contracted to e-government. But this word cannot be further contracted satisfactorily. For example, if it is contracted to e-gov, it makes the meaning ambiguous- does it stand for e-governance, e-government, e-govern or indeed some thing else? As such the proposed spelling is e-government (or E-government at the beginning of a sentence), which requires to be promoted.

 “Internet” or “internet”?

“Internet” (with upper case “I”) is a network of networks which hosts the World Wide Web which is surfed by us day in, day out. Internet is unique. While “internet” is non-existent entity so far except that some writers have started using the term “internet” for “Internet” (perhaps under the (mistaken) impression that it should be so spelt because it has become a public utility like telephony or electricity). There is however a deeper significance in the difference in spellings.

Shannon (2004) in International Herald Tribune reports that with “internet” (with lower case “i”) International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency, wants to lower-case the word Internet as a matter of official policy so that it could take over the governance of Internet. She reports that some of the 2,100 participants at the union’s highest-level strategy meeting, which convened for three weeks in November 2006 in Antalya, Turkey, “saw the move as the latest in a long-running effort by the organization to control the Internet, this time through a subtle yet symbolic imprint on the most powerful communications and commercial tool of the 21st century.” (ibid.). Yoshio Utsumi, who turns over his office as secretary general of the agency to Touré in January, had called the Internet a “utility” to be managed for the public good (ibid.).

“World Wide Web,” “world wide web” or “WorldWideWeb”?

Since the “World Wide Web,” the universe of information over the Internet, like the Internet, is unique, it should be spelled as “World Wide Web” and not as “world wide web.”

More importantly, the three words “World Wide Web” should not be combined to make one word “WorldWideWeb” as this (one word) was the first Web client, a browser-editor written in 1990 that ran on a Next machine. According to Berners-Lee (n.d.), the inventor of World Wide Web, “Much later it was renamed Nexus in order to save confusion between the program and the abstract information space (which is now spelled World Wide Web with spaces).”

Web site, web site or website?

Which one to use: Web site (with upper case “W”), web site (two words) or website (one word)? The Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD) (eleventh edition, revised, 2006:1636), comes to our rescue by recognizing (and thus implicitly recommending) website (one word). Interestingly, its earlier edition, Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD) (Tenth edition, 1999:1623), spells it as two words- web site. Even dictionaries change in our e-age so fast, reflecting the current usage!

E-mail or Email?

AskOxford.com (OUP 2007) recommends email (without hyphen), “as this is now by far the most common form.” The Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD) (eleventh edition, revised, 2006), however, also recognizes “e-mail” (with a hyphen). At this juncture of usage, therefore, both the spellings- email and e-mail- appear to be in order though ultimately email may prevail over e-mail.
Other E-words

AskOxford.com asks “What is the correct way to spell ‘e’ words such as ’email’, ‘ecommerce’, ‘egovernment’? (ibid.). Should they be hyphenated or capitalized or neither?” The long-time friend and guide in such matters – Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD), last revised in 2004, eleventh edition, and the first in the 21st century – still treats the issue as premature. It has no policy on e-words but guesses that e-government may appear in this form (ibid.). Other frequently used e-age words have already been recognized by the Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD). Its eleventh edition (revised) (2006), spells Internet (with capital I), World Wide Web (three words), webmaster (one word), weblog (one word) or blog (lower case “b”) but web page (two words).AskOxford.com’s advice “If in doubt with other words, hyphenate – this is the most comprehensible form of such words” (ibid.) needs to be kept in mind as a general rule so also the fact that usage may change these spellings in due course.

Concluding Remarks

Like all pieces of advice, this piece is too, in all likelihood, going to be ignored and the merry world of spelling of e-government terms in a number of ways suiting one’s fancy or convenience and not rationale will continue giving rise to present free-for-all spelling scenario. This scenario is, however, not only counter-productive but it also does not befit a growing discipline and practice worldwide leave alone our electronic age or e-age. One way out of this undesirable situation is that one should standardize one’s own spelling of e-government terms till the usage stabilizes and gives the lexicographers a chance to “prescribe” the spellings.
  Dr D.C.Misra blogs at http://egov-india.blogspot.com//




1.            Relyea, Harold C (2002): E-gov: Introduction and overview, Government Information Quarterly, 19 (2002) 9–35

2.            DESA (Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations), Division for Public Administration and Development Management (2005): UN Global E-government Readiness Report 2005: From E-government to E-inclusion, New York, United Nations, available at http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/un/unpan021888.pdf (accessed: March 14, 2007), UNPAN/2005/14, pp xi and 204
3.            Heeks, Richard (2004): eGovernment for Development, Basic Definitions Page, Manchester, UK, University of Manchester, Institute for Development Policy and Management (IDPM), available at  http://www.egov4dev.org/egovdefn.htm (accessed: July 10, 2007).

4.            Shannon, Victoria (2006): What’s in an ‘i’? Internet governance: UN agency reconsiders its role as countries jockey for influence in industry, International Herald Tribune, December 3, available at http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/12/03/technology/btitu.php?page=1 (accessed: May 7, 2007).

5.            Berners-Lee, Tim (n.d.): The WorldWideWeb Browser, available at http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/WorldWideWeb.html (accessed: July 10, 2007).

6.            OUP (Oxford University Press) (2007): Ask the experts, available at http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutspelling/email?view=uk (accessed: July 10, 2007)

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