Origin of Email & Misuses of the Term “Email”
Deborah J. Nightingale, Sen Song, Leslie P. Michelson, Robert Field
Summary: The origin of email, the system as we all know and use today, begins in 1978 when a 14-year-old Research Fellow, V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, working at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), located in Newark, New Jersey, invented the first electronic system to replicate the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system consisting of Inbox, Outbox, Folders, Memo, Attachment, Address Book, etc. Ayyadurai named this system “email, ” a term he was the first to create, because he was inventing the “electronic” or “e” version of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based “mail” system. Moreover, the specific naming of email arose for idiosyncratic reasons since FORTRAN IV, the programming language used to create his invention, required all variable and program names to be in upper case and a maximum of six characters, while the Hewlett Packard RTE-IVB operating system, on which the software executed, had a five-character limit for program names. These constraints motivated the selection of “E,” “M,” “A,” “I,” and “L.” Prior to 1978, neither the term “email,” in any variation, upper case, lower case, mixed case, with or without the dash, nor did the software application “email” exist. After Ayyadurai’s invention, the term “email” was misused, primarily by members of the ARPANET community and Raytheon/BBN, to refer to their developments in rudimentary methods for exchanging text messages, done prior to 1978, as “email.” Such developments, while important in their own right, were not email, the system of interlocking parts intended to emulate the interoffice, inter-organizational paper-based mail system --- the email we all experience today.