How should we spell "copy editor"?

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One thing on which I would appreciate help from a copy editor, if there is a single one still prepared to talk to me after my latest dumb copy editor story, is how to write the name of the worthy profession that I have so cruelly mocked for just occasionally displaying pointless tone-deaf bossiness. I currently write "copy editor". But I notice that some of my commenters (even those claiming to be or to have been copy editors) write "copyeditor", and others "copy-editor". I wouldn't want to be out of step with the literate world. This is basically a spelling convention, and I have no axe to grind, and I'm perfectly prepared to go along with current literate practice, once I know what it is. I did just one quick experiment to see if I was way off base: I searched the familiar 44 million words of 1987-1989 Wall Street Journal files (they have become much beloved of computational linguists for testing parsers and so on since Mark Liberman on behalf of the Association for Computational Linguistics obtained them for scientific use in 1993), and simply counted the hits. The modest results of this 60-second survey work with grep are as follows:

      copy editor: 12       copy-editor: 0       copyeditor: 0

So that looks like an overwhelming, knock-down, drag-out victory for my present policy. (A couple of the 12 hits supporting me seem to be repetitions; but even so, it's a win.) However, perhaps someone has some good, clear evidence that this is misleading data and my spelling should be revised. I am fully prepared to accept guidance.


  1. John S. Wilkins said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:03 am

    As quandam copy boy in the subeditors' room of The Melbourne Sun Pictorial, c1973, my feeling is there is no generic convention, just house style. My employers used hyphenated compounds for portmanteaus, but I think they would have adopted the single word compound for a technical role. Unfortunately I can no longer located my copy, purloined, of the style guide for the Herald and Weekly Times, now a News Limited arm.

  2. Theo said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:28 am

    I've heard it claimed (a great way to introduce evidence) that compound words follow a progression: "A B" then "A-B" then "AB". So perhaps dropping the hyphen puts you on the side of progress?

    Where did I hear this claim (unfounded by any references, no doubt…)? Ah, yes. Don Knuth arguing that there should be no hyphen in "e-mail"/"email". Well, there you go.

  3. Nathan Myers said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:29 am

    Whatever the outcome, "copy-editing", as a verb, seems safe.

    Quandam : 191,000; Quondam: 713,000. I would have guess a stronger signal.

  4. WindowlessMonad said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:34 am

    The grumpy old men of the trade do it thus:

  5. mwg said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:37 am

    So you're trying to find current literary convention with 20-year old journal text, which itself was likely published under the scrutiny of copy editors whose job, in part, is to enforce convention?

    That said, a Google search of pages from within the last year only reveals "copy editor", and not the other variants. Another search (over the whole web) revealed an article titled "Carol Fisher Saller: The Subversive Copyeditor, Advice from Chicago", which also included the gerund "copyediting". This article was published by The University of Chicago Press.

  6. Nicholas Clayton said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:59 am

    'COPY-EDITING The Cambridge Handbook' by Judith Butcher (Chief Subeditor, Cambridge University Press), CUP, 1975 and second ed 1981.

    She hyphenates the verb and the noun but note her job-title.

    And, @John S Wilkins, "portmanteaux" ?

  7. Nicholas Clayton said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:03 am

    And … having looked in the book, I see that funny old CUP have someone called the "Printer's Copy-preparer". No doubt an hereditary post first established in the 16th century to provide an income for an indigent nephew of the first University Printer.

  8. Picky said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:29 am

    But, as a former sub-editor, I would spell sub-editor "sub-editor" and not "subeditor"

  9. Simon Cauchi said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:06 am

    Newspapers call them "copy editors". And the work they do isn't quite the same as that done by a book publisher's "copy-editors". I don't believe that closed-up "copyeditors" has very much currency, but doubtless some people write the word thus.

  10. Stan said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:16 am

    The British National Corpus gives the following (rather meagre) results:

    copy editor 5; copy-editor 1; copyeditor 0
    copy editing 2; copy-editing 1; copyediting 0

    I suspect that "copy editor" will in many instances resist the trend from A B => A-B => AB, or at least its final step.

    Regarding the plural of "portmanteau": since the word has been naturalised, the preferred plural spelling seems to be "-s"; this is recommended in the Oxford Manual of Style, the third Fowler's Modern English Usage, and Garner's Dictionary of Modern American Usage, for starters. Garner calls the "-x" form "less good".

  11. NW said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:33 am

    Beats me. I'm a proof-reader/proofreader/proof reader, and for me that's just like putting an S in 'lisp' or making 'dyslexic' hard to spell. Actually I don't care either, but when I hear that hyphens are going out of fashion I get all surly and hyphenate things.

  12. StuartB said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 4:55 am

    I spent some time as a copy editor and use as shown. This brings out the constant conflict within my soul: the editor in me is prescriptivist, the linguist descriptive. To let the editor win out for a moment, I’d point out that copy editors edit copy, journals editors edit journals and so forth. This is different to sub-editor, where the “sub” qualifies the nature of the editor, and not the material edited.

    I’d also mention that your WSJ corpus will have selection bias in favour of WSJ style; the results simply show that WSJ have admirably consistent copy editors and cannot be held to be representative of wider usage.

  13. Mark Liberman said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 6:15 am

    Searching on the NYT site turns up 41 hits for copyeditor, along with the question "Did you mean 'copy editor'?", which gets 4,880.

    It doesn't seem to be possible to search effectively for copy-editor, because hyphens are apparently equated with spaces in search strings.

    The hits for copyeditor include this one, from the paper's "Noted with Pleasure" feature in 1989:

    Though copy editors are the conscience of publishing, this one sees himself as a nihilist character out of Samuel Beckett. He is the protagonist of a story called, in a complex joke, "The Liberal Imagination by Lionel Trilling." It is one of a series of such double-entendre pieces in "Twice Told Tales" by Daniel Stern (Paris Review/British American).

    I am a copyeditor, freelance. Interrupting is my job, digression is my mother tongue. I explicate terms the way other people chew food. And I'm proud of one fact: when I tackle the work of an author – there is no forest, only trees! I'm also proud of my identity. I am the only life-long, freelance copyeditor in the United States. If at the top of the literary ladder stands the Nobel laureate novelist or poet, who can stand on the bottom rung? No – I do even better. I am the bottom rung! And it is my great pleasure to be the lowest rung on the ladder. What joy. Not nowhere to go but up. I lost that illusion years ago. No. Nowhere to go! It's hard to communicate to my contemporaries the peculiar pleasures of starting in a cul-de-sac – so that you can't possibly come to one. Male bonding

    I infer from context that the second paragraph is quotation while the first is commentary; and that the puzzling "Male bonding" at the end of the second paragraph should be interpretated as the heading for the segment that follows, which is a story about how Hemingway once left a box of hand grenades for Picasso:

    One of the first effects of the Liberation was the arrival of Hemingway at the Rue des Grands-Augustins. . . . The concierge in Pablo's building was a very timid woman but not at all bashful. She had no idea who Hemingway was but she had been used to having many of Pablo's friends and admirers leave gifts for him when they called in his absence. From time to time South American friends of his had sent him such things as hams so that he could eat a little better than the average during the war. In fact Pablo had more than once shared his food parcels with her. When she told Hemingway that Pablo was not there and Hemingway said he'd like to leave a message for him, she asked him – so she told us later – "Wouldn't you perhaps like to leave a gift for Monsieur?" Hemingway said he hadn't thought about it before, but perhaps it was a good idea. He went out to his jeep and brought back a case of hand grenades. He set it down inside her loge and marked it "To Picasso from Hemingway." What Is This Thing Called Love?

    Hand grenade is like copy editor, in that it might have been written hyphenated or solid. And "What is This Thing Called Love" is, recursively, the heading of the next passage, which, however, lacks any obvious copy-editing issues with the treatment of white space, though it is about language:

    She did not say that she loved me. Instead she used fond and oblique expressions that tantalized me. If she had been American I would have known what she meant – if she had been African it would have been much plainer to me. But she was English, and the language could be as maddening and ungraspable as smoke. I meant a lot to her, she said. She was as happy as she had ever been with anyone, she said. The trip had been tremendous fun, she said. She had been desolated by having to come back to town, she said. She would miss me enormously . . .

    I wanted more. There was no more. Translation Springs Eternal

    And again, "Translation Springs Eternal" is the heading for the section that follows. The whole passage is clearly in need of a copy editor's services. Or a copy-editor's services. Or …

  14. Mr Fnortner said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 6:37 am

    Is it not an ironic commentary on the state of copy editing (or copy editors) that the spelling of copy editor is eroding to copyeditor? Is not Mr. Pullum exonerated?

  15. NW said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 6:45 am

    Or we could ask the cotton-top tamarins their preference, now that they're up to speed on 'grammar':

  16. Terry Collmann said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 7:02 am

    StuartB – "This is different to sub-editor, where the 'sub' qualifies the nature of the editor, and not the material edited."

    That was true originally, but in British newspaper offices today they're called "subs" and what they do is called "subbing". Specialists might occupy such posts as "revise sub" (the person who checks what other subs have done) and "online sub", who will prepare copy for the internet.

    Incidentally, isn't "copy editor" suffering from redundancy? What else would an editor edit (at least in the days before sound recording/film/video) if not copy?

  17. John McIntyre said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 7:16 am

    The American Copy Editors Society, formed in 1997, with members mainly from newspapers, continues to use "copy editor." The newsletter "Copyediting" went to the fused word within the past year, encountering some protests from the copy editors who subscribe to it.

    The currency of "copy editor." "copyeditor," and even "copy-editor" suggests that the term is in flux, allowing Professor Pullum to use whatever form he personally prefers.

    The issue is likely to become moot within years, as publications, both print and electronic, dispense with this costly function. When the last copy editor, like the last passenger pigeon, is gone, the title will be of purely antiquarian interest.

  18. jfruh said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 8:30 am

    As Allison Bechdel once asked in her Dykes To Watch Out For comic: does "anal retentive" have a hypen? For a while, you could buy t-shirts with this phrase on it at copy editor conventions.

  19. Mark P said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 8:55 am

    @Terry Collmann – in a newspaper, there are editors that may or may not edit. For example, the city editor, the news editor, and, finally, the editor. Their jobs may be more about management than editing, and reading copy for content rather than for spelling, style and grammar.

  20. Zwicky Arnold said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:03 am

    Another vote:

    Einsohn, Amy. 2006. The copyeditor’s handbook: A guide for book publishing and corporate communications. 2nd ed. Berkeley CA: Univ. of Calif. Press.

    My own practice seems to be heavily in favor of "copyeditor", though occasionally i write "copy editor" (but never, I think, "copy-editor"). But there's no issue of substance here.

  21. Mark Liberman said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:11 am

    I have (somewhere) an auto repair manual in which "spark plug", "spark-plug", and "sparkplug" all occur within the same paragraph.

    IMHO we ought to cherish this feeble residue of Elizabethan orthographic freedom.

  22. Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:20 am

    "We" apparently are undecided. But I am not. I am a copyeditor of book and journal manuscripts. I have been a copyeditor for 25 years.

  23. Joel Kalvesmaki said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:24 am

    The word is headed to copyeditor, in analogy to proofreader and in accordance with Theo's A B, A-B, AB observation (which I have seen defended in several venues). The closed form should sit well with linguists, since it mirrors the way we pronounce the word, at least in the United States, where no syllable of "editor" is stressed. (Compare pronunciation with "acquiring editor" or "business editor.")

  24. Rob P. said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:39 am

    Isn't this simply evidence of the WSJ style guide and further, that the copy editors of the WSJ are (were) efficient at enforcing it? That one publication is internally consistent means no more than that.

  25. Noetica said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:41 am

    I venture to suggest that the biggest aggregation of copyeditors in the universe operates at Wikipedia. There I learned to spell it closed, along with all its relatives. It's more American than Commonwealth; but WP editing requires writing the single word copyedit so often in edit summaries that we tend to go for whatever is quickest, regardless of politics.

    The actual WP article "Copy editing" begins like this: "Copy editing (also copy-editing and copyediting) …".

    Bryan Garner recommends copyeditor, and also copywriter.

  26. Karen said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:58 am

    The dictionary I "learned on," Webster's Collegiate, uses two words for copy editor but one word for copywriter, copyreader, copydesk, copyright, copyboy, copybook, etc., and even the verb copyedit—which makes no sense to me. American Heritage, on the other hand, uses one word for all those terms, including copyeditor. So I've always used copyeditor, but I realize that I'm in the minority—and I occasionally wonder whether my resume gets passed over because of it.

  27. Zwicky Arnold said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:01 am

    Mr Fnorter: "Is it not an ironic commentary on the state of copy editing (or copy editors) that the spelling of copy editor is eroding to copyeditor?"

    Why is solidification characterized as erosion? The word is a compound noun regardless of whether it's spelled separated, hyphenated, or solid.

  28. Bobbie said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:10 am

    I worked as a copyeditor and as a technical editor, which makes little sense. Why should the one involving copy be written as one word and the other as two? (I also worked as a proofreader, in the days before online spell checkers. In my opinion, most automatic spell checkers have very limited value…)

  29. Sili said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:12 am

    Being a Dane with a penchant for Burgess, I tend to string together words in the Germanic style far more than you natives.

    That is to say: I vote for "copyeditor".

  30. Cassie Armstrong said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:13 am

    I have to vote for copyeditor.

  31. Cassie Armstrong said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:14 am

    I vote for copyeditor just for the way it looks on the page.

  32. Amy J. Schneider said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    I've been a freelance copyeditor for fifteen years. I agree with Karen Judd, author of _Copyediting: A Practical Guide_, who wrote, "[A] copyeditor does not edit copy; a copyeditor _copyedits_ copy." The distinction is a useful one.

    I think it would also be useful to note that usage seems to vary among industries (newspapers vs. books, for example) and across the pond (the Brits do like their hyphens!).

  33. Wendalyn Nichols said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    I'm the editor of what was once Copy Editor newsletter and is now Copyediting newsletter. In the fall of 2007, I decided that the name change, however subtle it may seem to an "outsider," reflected better what the newsletter was about: many more of our subscribers were and are people who copyedit as part of their jobs, not people whose job title is "copy editor."

    I polled our editorial advisory board about the proposed name change: 11 of 12 responded. Three voted against the closed spellings in all forms; two said they didn't object to "copyediting" but would prefer to keep the noun spelled as "copy editor"; and six supported the closed spellings.

    When I reported on this in the newsletter, I said the responses showed how opinion is split on the matter–and not clearly with newspaper and magazine people on one side and academic editors on the other, which I had thought would be the case.

    Some cited the AP Stylebook, others a particular dictionary; dictionaries differ, however. WNW shows an open compound noun and hyphenated verb; MW has the open noun compound but closed verb; AHD and NOAD show closed spellings in all forms. I said at the time, "The fact that the current editions of the major American dictionaries don't agree shows just how dependent the editorial teams at dictionary houses are on their own data set when it comes to analyzing usage. The range of treatments in major dictioanries do indeed compose a picture–a snapshot of spelling in transition."

    I also gave my rationale for the decision, which I won't repeat here (it's long), but Geoffrey (if I may), I'm happy to send you a PDF of the issue in question–just contact me through the Web site.

  34. Chris Davey said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:22 am

    For ten years now, I've been a copy editor who copyedits and offers copyediting services.

  35. KCinDC said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:27 am

    "Copyeditor" is used by people who use "copyedit" as a verb, including many copyeditors and those who write books and articles about copyediting. Writing the verb as "copy edit" doesn't work. The verb "copyedit" is a technical term, so the solid spelling hasn't spread to the general public.

    Among those who write about "editing copy", the person who does that is more likely to be a "copy editor".

    "Proofreader" should be parallel, but "proofread" is a much more common verb in nontechincal contexts than "copyedit" is, and everyone talks about proofreaders as proofreading rather than reading proofs.

  36. KCinDC said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:34 am

    Bobbie, when you were a technical editor, did you "technical edit" (or "technicaledit") manuscripts? I imagine not, and that's the difference.

  37. Geoff Pullum said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:47 am

    Hey, what is this: democracy? Am I supposed to count up all these votes? And find maybe that there is no majority? Where are the fundamental principles of usage when you really need them? You see, I think that in phonology there is massive regional and personal variation and it's good; in morphology and syntax, a certain amount of variation, though there is a fairly well defined standard dialect; but in spelling we ought to have fixed conventions that we all follow. Above you see copy editors (or copy-editors; these are the same as copyeditors) all advocating for their own versions. This is not what I was expecting! Copy editor, edit thyself! I need guidance! I want fixed and rigid rules!

    (Yes, of course, I'm kidding; I'm using this genuinely problematic case as a light way of highlighting in miniature what we're dealing with here. In the case of syntax, we have hundreds of years of textual evidence about how highly complex principles interact, and we should be respectful of that evidence. In the case of spelling the issue is much more trivial and much more amenable to codification by editing and publishing authorities, and yet we still can't get definite answers. Do you see what I'm trying to do here?)

  38. carol14g said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:53 am

    I put my money on Karen, as our office uses Webster's Collegiate. I am a copy editor (among other things), but I do copyediting (among other things). One more post-it note for the wall . . .

  39. Wendalyn Nichols said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:16 am

    The two major manuals for copyeditors, The Copyeditor's Handbook (American) and Butcher's Copy-editing (British) don't even agree. So yes–I, for one, do see what you're trying to do here.

    The best approach, I feel, is to try to be consistent within a given set of related terms (verb, gerund, noun) rather than splitting the baby. So either you stick with "copy-edit," "copy editing," and "copy editor," or you go all the way and spell them all as closed compounds.

    In my copyediting workshops, I encourage editors to think about their own house style and do what makes the most sense for their subject matter and for the audience their publications serve. I think the most reasonable and defensible approach is to spend time thinking about the "rules" you follow and make sure you can clearly articulate them and are consistent about how you apply them–instead of being knee-jerk in your adherence to a particular stylebook.

  40. Willard Hughes said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:31 am

    I've been a copy editor at three newspapers. "Copyeditor" and "copyediting" look funny to me, even after all these years belonging to the Copyediting-L e-mail list. (Yeah, I like my hyphen in "e-mail," too.) And by the way, "copyeditor" and "copyediting" both get little red lines under them when I type them on this very Web site. Not that I ever trust an automatic computer spell-check.

  41. Faldone said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    In the base ball/base-ball/baseball example I think a search of the newspaper archives will show that it was once invariably base ball, is now invariably baseball (except for some references to modern re-enactments of the 19th century game), and that there was a transitional period when base ball, base-ball, and baseball all co-existed.

    I submit that we are in that transitional period now w/r/t copyeditor.

    N.B. My browser's spell-checker wants copy editor, but will accept copy-editor.

  42. Susan Sheppard said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    I agree with the A B, A-B, AB observation, with "proofreader" being a good example.

    And because I work (freelance) both for businesses and on books, I style myself both as "proofreader" and as "copyeditor." What I do is usually exactly the same, under either title, but I've learned that an awful lot of people in the business world (such as ad agencies), and the average person in general, know "proofread" and do not know "copyedit." By "proofread" they usually mean "copyedit" anyway. And since they aren't familiar with "copyeditor" but are with "copywriter," the latter seems to be what they "hear" and remember and then I have a dickens of a time trying to get them to remember that I'm *not* a copywriter!! All of which is to say that since I sometimes use both "proofreader" and "copyeditor" in print (like on a business card)–to cover everyone's understanding of what comes down to the same thing, using both as one word looks, at least to me, a lot better than a mix would.

    So, I use "copyeditor."

    And when the industry uses "copywriter," why not use "copyeditor"?

  43. Stephen Jones said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    I don't think this is a definite spelling convention, so much as an example of a trend in English the A B > A-B > AB mentioned earlier.

    Stick any one of the three in.

    There is a difference in perception between sub-editor or sports editor or culture editor, and that will affect the transition.

  44. Graeme Hirst said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

    @John S. Wilkins: As quandam copy boy in the subeditors' room of The Melbourne Sun Pictorial

    As copyeditor, I correct your second word to quondam.

    As fact-checker, I correct your last four words to The Sun News-Pictorial.

  45. Jeffrey Chesters said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    I suppose we need to remind ourselves that there are many, many people who can't spell very well, and who are in jobs of literary responsibility. Using output, which includes that of such people, to formulate theories, seems, to me, to be a bit dodgy.

  46. Daniel C. Parmenter said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    I had no idea that Mark Liberman was responsible for the 1987-89 WSJ archive being made available. I know those files well and consulted them often when I was working as a dictionary/grammar coder on a machine translation system (Logovista E to J) back in the nineties. What a wonderful resource that was. Thanks Mark!

  47. Nik Berry said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 12:59 pm

    The OED has copy editor, but copy-edit and copy-editing.

  48. Amy Einsohn said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:03 pm

    When I first started in book publishing, The Chicago Manual of Style (the 13th edition then reigned) called for “copyeditor” and “copyediting,” as did Karen Judd’s Copyediting: A Practical Manual (the 1982 edition). Judd addresses the variant stylings of the term in her first paragraph and ventures that “a copyeditor does not edit copy; a copyeditor copyedits copy.”

    In my book (p. 11), I wrote, “Given that there is no consensus about how to spell copyediting, it is not surprising that the meaning of the term is somewhat unsettled.” My sense is that US newspapers prefer “copy editor,” and US book publishers prefer “copyeditor.” I don’t have a sense of the practices in other English-speaking countries.

    The newest edition of the Chicago Manual (15th ed., 2003) spells it “manuscript editor.” But just this spring U Chicago Press published Carol Fisher Saller’s The Subversive Copy Editor (two words). Just for fun: U Chicago Press “restyled” the blurb I wrote for the book such that I praise Carol as “the mentor every copy editor [two words] dreams of,” even though the signature line i.d.s me as the author of The Copyeditor’s [one word] Handbook. I had specifically asked them not to do that, but . . .

  49. John Thiesmeyer said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:34 pm

    In case no one has yet noted this, the standard US dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate (11th, 2003), says that copy editor(s) is standard and so is the verb copyedit. The Concise OED (11th, 2008), "powered by the Oxford English Corpus" of two billion words, says the verb is copy-edit and its derivative noun is copy editor.

  50. Mr Fnortner said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

    Mr Arnold, the solidification I call erosion may be a virtue in some languages (German comes to mind) and a novel aid in English (used sparingly), but for the most part would be an abomination were it to become persistent. Projectmanager, productionsuperintendent, accountingsupervisor, teamleader, daylaborer, washroomattendant, and the like are the logical result of "copyeditor" applied to other equally deserving occupations. There are no strictures against it, are there? My suggestion of irony was that copy editors, of all people, should have been vigilant against this sort of vulgar formation, yet I suppose, education being what it is today, none of them noticed. In fact, many are party to it, and seemingly proud of it.

  51. Laurie Rendon said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 1:44 pm

    I'm a freelancer doing presubmission editing for academics, so I guess I'm free to spell it however I want. I prefer two words: copy editor. I don't think it's ready to make the transition to a single word. I imagine the uninitiated encountering *copyeditor*– a longish funny word with a y in the middle–and just skipping over it, thinking it must be either a prehistoric bird or a disease. *Copy editor* is simple and clear (even if the meaning isn't).

  52. Dan T. said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

    The Onion's book Our Dumb Century, with fake newspaper front pages from 1900 through 2000, sometimes uses hyphens in words (like "news-paper") in the earlier pages for an affected archaic look.

    I remember from my college days when I was a columnist in the school newspaper, that I looked at bound volumes of older issues of the paper going back to before 1910, and early ones wrote "Foot Ball" instead of "Football".

  53. BillTheEditor said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    Another grumpy old man weighs in for copy editor.

  54. Dean said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

    "I searched the familiar 44 million words of 1987-1989 Wall Street Journal files."

    I'm sorry, you are using data that is twenty years old? Would you rely on a twenty-year-old dictionary?

    [As I said, I had time to do one little experiment on my laptop just to see what the picture was there (twenty years counts for very little in the slow business of language change), and then I asked the community. Only to have you and several others quibble over the data I used. At least I looked at some kind of data, while you did nothing. I said "perhaps someone has some good, clear evidence that this is misleading data and my spelling should be revised", and that if they did ""I am fully prepared to accept guidance". I didn't say "feel free to whine about my corpus choice even if you have no recommendation to offer". (I notice from our secret records that your bitter accusation comes from an email address at the University of Chicago Press! I hope I have not made enemies at that fine publishing house. It did flawless jobs on publishing two of my most successful books, and I love it dearly.) —GKP]

  55. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    As KCinDC wrote, it makes sense to call someone who copyedits a copyeditor, and someone who edits copy a copy editor (or possibly copy-editor in the UK). I would even pronounce them differently: in copy editor the first vowel of editor gets a glottal stop and a full accent, while in copyeditor it gets no glottal stop and at most a secondary accent; I wouldn't be surprised to hear all the vowels after copy pronounced as schwas.
    Who said there is no link between spelling and pronunciation?

  56. Linda the Copy Editor said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 5:07 pm

    "Flip a coin" is something I seem to be saying in response to more and more questions. Thumbs down on hyphenating the noun, but other than that, I don't care.

    I am struggling to see a difference between "editing copy" and "copyediting [or copy-editing] copy." Do people drawing this distinction mean that "editing copy" is what all kinds of editors up and down the masthead do? But those other editors are never called copy editors unless they're, well, copyeditors. I've generally worked on publications that blur the lines between different kinds of editing a bit, but no one who outranks me has ever been called a copy editor just because he/she does something that can be called editing to something that can be called copy.

  57. Nancy Harward said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    House style of the publisher for which I do most work calls for copyeditor, one word, so that's how I've come to style myself. I agree that what copyeditors do is significiantly different from what most people called "editors" do, so I like the distinction that the closed form implies.

  58. language hat said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:01 pm

    Herewith another copyeditor who votes for that spelling. It is parallel to proofreader, reflects the pronunciation, and will prevail. Get used to it.

  59. Iris said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

    My mental style guide follows Webster's 11th ed. (aka Web11), which spells the noun "copy editor" and the verb "copyedit." House style might override the dictionary, of course, but when in doubt, follow your dictionary of choice and stick with it.

    My funny bone is tingling because so many copy editors have given their opinions without referring to a dictionary, instead citing Google rankings as their justification.

  60. Cassie Tuttle said,

    July 8, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

    I'm a freelance copyeditor.

    Back then, I was unsure about the spelling, so I decided to go with copyeditor," as used by the EFA (Editorial Freelancers Association). The Chicago Manual of Style doesn't dictate any one particular spelling, but does lean toward "copyeditor":

    "Q. I haven’t paid much attention to style until recently when I had to begin doing some editing of copy again. Now I find that “copyeditor” is one word. What about people who edit books? Are they bookeditors? What about newspaper editors? Are they newspapereditors? Please justify. Thanks from Ice Age copy editor.

    A. Dear Ice Age: Webster’s agrees with you and still lists “copy editor,” although it gives the verb as “copyedit,” and this is probably the justification for the spelling “copyeditor.” I rather like it—at least I’d rather conserve my spleen for worse stuff. (For instance, have you noticed that nobody uses the word “who” as a relative pronoun anymore? “The parents that threw the party were arrested.” Tsk—)"

  61. Noetica said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 1:13 am

    For instance, have you noticed that nobody uses the word "who" as a relative pronoun anymore? … Tsk—

    Typical censorious and unjustified opinion from the CMOS people. I hope they were joking; but it would be a rather irresponsible joke. That is well established as an alternative to who in restrictive ("essential") cases. This has been discussed at Language Log, hasn't it?

  62. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 1:23 am

    I think the A B → A-B → AB trend that several people have pointed out is more a matter of the familiarity of the compound than a matter of time. Body builders use "bodybuilders", "bodyfat", and "bodyweight"; Unix programmers use "inode"; bare-metal hackers use "cacheline" (; people who work on memory allocation code all day use "freelist" (; note this also has "cacheline" and several of what I would consider punctuation errors).

    If this is correct, and it's not merely that English is becoming more agglutinative over time, we should see words that were compound in the past, but that are now little used, becoming hyphenated or separate: AB → A B. Unfortunately, it isn't easy for me to come up with a list of compound words that were widely used in the past and are now seldom used. I looked in the 1ed OED for a while and found candidates "whaleman", meaning "whaler", and "wheatmeal", which I think means "whole wheat flour".

    Hyphenation definitely is less in fashion today than a century ago, and that in itself explains some of the numerous A-B → AB transitions you can find, with words like wedding-cake, wedding-ring, which you can find in the 1ed OED.

  63. Noetica said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 1:27 am

    It has indeed been discussed here: at least by me in May of this year. But surely elsewhere.

    Most humane and intelligent style guides agree. Garner (Modern American Usage, p. 836) specifically allows that, though he notes that most editors prefer who. In some cases, though, that is far more natural.

  64. Terry Collmann said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 4:47 am

    Just as a counter-example to the idea that progress is always A B to A-B to AB, if you look in British newspapers up to at least the 1930s, and sometimes as late as the 1950s, you will find addresses given in the form Oxford-street. Today nobody would write anything but Oxford Street.

  65. Speakwrite said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 7:47 am

    The Concise OED (11th, 2008), "powered by the Oxford English Corpus" of two billion words, says the verb is copy-edit and its derivative noun is copy editor. This is why I recommend that people seek for grammar and writing support and excellent proofreading and editing services as they are key in any work. Very useful.

  66. Ally said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 10:30 am

    Just to make things more confusing, I'll also note that the word "editor" itself has lost clear meaning. In many publishing houses (and I suspect at magazines and newspapers, too), there are positions for which the title is "X Editor." Most of these positions do not actually call for any editing at all. For example, Managing Editors, who oversee the production process in book publishing but who don't ever edit or really do anything with the content itself. So I would vote for "copyeditor" as a distinction from "X editor," one who copyedits vs. one who edits (or doesn't, I suppose).

  67. language hat said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 11:37 am

    Just as a counter-example to the idea that progress is always A B to A-B to AB, if you look in British newspapers up to at least the 1930s, and sometimes as late as the 1950s, you will find addresses given in the form Oxford-street. Today nobody would write anything but Oxford Street.

    This is not a counterexample and has very little to do with what we're talking about. "Oxford Street" is not pronounced as a single word by anyone, and the fashion for writing it as a hyphenated phrase was an antiquated oddity that has been regularized. What we're talking about is a regular process by which frequently used collocations get pronounced and (eventually) written as a single word; pace Kragen Javier Sitaker, this is very much a matter of time and not specialization.

    (Incidentally, I once did a post on the pronunciation of pace and was astonished to find myself in a small minority who use the traditional PAY-see — apparently almost everyone uses the Italianate PAH-chay these days, presumably by contamination with Church Latin phrases like "Dona nobis pacem.")

  68. mollymooly said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 6:58 pm

    "copy-edit" / "copyeditor" has an advantage over "copy edit(or)" in avoiding the possibility of misinterpreting "copy" as a verb.

    @language hat

    "Oxford Street" is not pronounced as a single word by anyone

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. I pronounce "Oxford Street" as a dactyl, and I think I would pronounce "Oxford-street" the same way.

  69. language hat said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 7:55 pm

    I mean that for me, the stress on "Street," while less prominent than that on "Ox-," is clearly greater than that on, say, the "ball" in "basketball"; furthermore, there is a perceptible pause before the second word. I realize this may not hold for speakers of U.K. English, and now I'm curious to know.

  70. mollymooly said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

    Interesting. For me, Street is just as unstressed as ~ball. I made a slightly related comment on separatedbyacommonlanguage a while back.

  71. Picky said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 4:17 am

    I suspect the hyphenation in street names may be a convention rather than something to do with stress. I imagine they would have written Oxford-road with the hyphen, too, (wouldn't they?) although (in BrE at least) the stress is quite different from Oxford-street.

  72. Sandy said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 12:45 pm

    I'm both amazed and ashamed: I've never seen the term written any way except "copyeditor." Now I don't know HOW to write it. All of you are very much convincing!

  73. Professional grammar editor said,

    July 10, 2009 @ 1:38 pm

    The verb is copy-edit and its derivative noun is copy editor.

  74. language hat said,

    July 11, 2009 @ 12:21 pm

    The verb is copy-edit and its derivative noun is copy editor.

    After reading this thread, you have the gall to lay down your personal preference as immutable law? Perhaps you're the copyeditor who wanted to change Metaphors We Live By

  75. Bob Violence said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 1:02 am

    I doubt they read the thread. It's a spammer who probably skimmed over the OP and posted a quick response just to get the link in.

  76. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    July 12, 2009 @ 10:59 pm

    Bob: You're right, she just quoted John Thiesmeyer's comment, twice, the first time as "Speakwrite".

  77. John Brooks Pounders said,

    July 14, 2009 @ 12:00 am

    At we spell it "copy edit".

  78. Kristine Hunt said,

    July 16, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

    I prefer "copy editor" to describe myself and "copy editing" as my work. No reason — I just like it better than copyeditor/copyediting.

    I think of the word "copy" in relation to newspapers, not books, so my feeling on this doesn't make logical sense, as I'm a book copy editor and therefore not editing "copy" but rather manuscripts. This might be why, when people ask me what I do for a living, I avoid the whole tangle and say, "I edit books."

    Even Firefox's spellcheck wants me to use the split versions. (Just noticing, not presenting that as evidence of my opinion's superiority!)

  79. John Cowan said,

    July 17, 2009 @ 12:46 pm

    The standardization of English orthography depends on what a physicist would call Hartree-Fock iteration. In particular, lexicographers appeal to the practice of publishers, whereas publishers appeal to the supposed authority of lexicographers. In this situation, all publishers will converge on a value that is fairly independent of original conditions, and will be quite resistant to change.

    Of course, resistance is not absolute rigidity. If enough publishers decide for whatever reasons that they prefer an orthographic variant, it will get some recognition in dictionaries and eventually spread.

  80. ray gunn said,

    July 30, 2009 @ 10:24 pm

    Yet another late vote for the closed form for both the noun and the verb, from another copyeditor.

    I have found the disagreement to split largely along trade affiliations, with newspaper/magazine types preferring "copy editor" and book-publishing types preferring "copyeditor."

    But wouldn't most of us agree that a general trend with compound nouns is to begin open and then drift ever increasingly closed? So as someone above mentioned, why fight it?

  81. MindStir Media book publishers said,

    October 15, 2013 @ 1:19 am

    I use "copy-editor" but I believe "copy editor" is also acceptable. Similarly, I've also seen some book publishers use "proofreader" and others "proof-reader" and even "proof reader". All the variations are correct, I believe… A bit confusing, I know.


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