Before email was email it was electronic mail. Although the shorter form is by far the more common name today, the full form electronic mail of course came first (otherwise how would anybody know what the ‘e’ meant?). It was only as people became more familiar with the system that they could shorten this to the snappier email. E- is now used in this way to form a plethora of technology words such as e-commerce and e-book, but email is where it all began.
The OED currently has a first quotation for electronic mail in this sense from 1975; the shorter email is first attested four years later, in 1979. Although this doesn’t seem like a very large gap in time, it seems unlikely that the 1979 quotation represents the coinage of email, taken as it is from a professional journal:
1979 Electronics 7 June 63 (heading) Postal Service pushes ahead with E-mail.
It seems probable that a computer whiz somewhere may have used email first. Perhaps earlier evidence lies in an internal company memo, a software manual, or even in an item of ‘electronic mail’? We’d like your help in finding such an example.
Posted by OED_Editor on 25 October 2012 6.37