Is e-mail speech or writing?

Confounding all expectation, people appear to be reading these postings. The previous item on quotations prompted a question from a reader about a relatively novel issue: quoting e-mail texts.

"[W]hen an interview is conducted by e-mail, or supplementary information is gathered by e-mail, should that always be signaled in the text, or is it okay to use the usual "said" and "according to" and "mentioned" as the verbs?"

Indicating in an article that an interview was conducted by e-mail is as much a point of accurate sourcing as saying that an interview was conducted by telephone or in a face-to-face encounter.

Once that has been established, "said," "according to" and "mentioned" are probably acceptable as loose attribution. But if you are going to be as strict about reproducing texts exactly as they were written as I recommended previously, you should probably use "wrote."

No doubt we’ll be hearing from people who disagree.

I’m sure that practice varies. The exchanges in the famous Paris Review interviews of authors — now available free and electronically at

— were traded back and forth between interviewer and subject in manuscript form so that both questions and answers could be refined. They were presented as direct speech, but the method was explained.

The thing is not to bamboozle the reader about what is going on.

On another topic, a colleague points out that "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge," another folk candidate for the origin of one of English’s most-beloved verbs, is "also the title of a Van Halen album." Not having paid any particular attention to rock music since the spring of 1970, I was unaware of that.

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