An Obituary for the Letter E

Joshua David Stein of Wired made a fascinating observation: the letter E, long the most common letter in the English language, has lost its prominence in the internet age. Many internet brands, such as Flickr and Tumblr, dropped that letter from their names:

But in 2004, Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake founded Flickr, a photograph-sharing application, without the standard penultimate E. “The most compelling reason to remove the E,” explained Ms. Fake, “was that we were unable to acquire the domain Flicker.com … The rest of the team were more in favor of other options, such as ‘FlickerIt’ or ‘FlickerUp’ but somehow, through persuasion or arm-twisting, I prevailed.” It was good news for the company but bad news for the letter. A year later, the company was acquired by Yahoo for $35 million.

Soon many startups began jettisoning their Es like toxic assets. In 2009, Grindr, a geosocial network application for gay men, chose to make do without the letter E. Membership quickly swelled. Myriad other brands followed suit, including Blendr, Gathr, Pixlr, Readr, Timr, Viewr, Pushr. [...]

The decline in E-ness was also hastened by the realities of venture capitalists. “You take out the E from your company name, and you increase the valuation by millions,” said Lockhart Steele, the founder of Curbed, a lifestyle publishing empire. “Being E-free,” agrees Esther Dyson, a venture capitalist and an early investor in Flickr, “distinguishes you from the run-of-the-mill vowel-infested world.”

According to some linguists, the writing has been on the wall for years. “What you are seeing is a very natural process – the omission of the letter in final unstressed syllables before /r/, is something that has been a feature of written English since Anglo-Saxon times,” said Professor David Crystal, OBE, a linguist and author of Internet Linguistics. “‘Gather’ in Old English was spelled both ‘gaderian’ and ‘gadrian,’ for example.” In other words, the law of lex parsimonae doomed the E’s of Flicker, Tumbler, and Gather a long time ago.

Mr. Stein's obituary ends with this clever bit:

The letter E was born in the late 8th century BC in Athens, Greece. His father, the Phoenician letter He, died between 323 BC and 31 BC. E travelled widely throughout the Western world.

E is survived by his brothers, A, I, O and U; three daughters, é, ẻ, ě; and a son, ẹ.

Don't worry. We can survive without the letter E.


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