Language and the Internet

(Axel Boer) #1

The language of e-mail 95

Structural elements

An individual e-mail consists of a series of functional elements,
for which terminology varies somewhat, all of which are similar in
screens typically display a bipartite structure, with a preformatted
upper area (theheaderorheading) and a lower area for the main
text (thebodyormessage). In some systems, if we choose to attach
a file to the e-mail, a third space becomes available, in which an
icon representing the attachment is located.


The underlying format of the header contains four core elements
(different systems vary in the extent to which they display all four,
and the order in which they display them):^3

(followingTo:), typed in full manually or inserted automat-
ically by typing a prompt which calls up a character-string
from an address-book (either the full e-address or a more
memorable short form, or nickname); this is an obligatory
 the e-address from which the message has been sent (follow-
ingFrom:), inserted automatically; this is also an obligatory
 a brief description of the topic of the message (followingSub-
ject:), inserted manually; this is an optional element, but the
software will query its absence (e.g. ‘This message has no sub-
ject. Are you sure you want to send it?’), and it is considered
efficient practice to include it (see below);
 the date and time at which the message is sent (following
Date:), inserted automatically by the software.

(^3) For the ‘header wars’ (over what should be included in the header) in the early days of
the Internet, see Naughton (1999: 149).

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