Why Is It Copywriting?

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I asked three copywriters about the word ‘copywriting’.

I asked Tom Albrighton, asking ‘Why is copywriting, as in writing copy, one word?

I should point out that my wife was a book editor and worked for many well-known publishers, and things like ‘copywriting’ and ‘copywriter’ jump out at her. A copywriter – a writer of copy. Yes, but how did copywriting come about? Why not copy writing?


Tom replied:

“Good question.”

This is his book – the one that my wife spotted on my pile of books.


I asked Glenn Fisher, saying ‘My wife and I were talking and she noticed a book on my pile of books and asked a question, which I am putting to you as a person with a wide education who talks about the benefit of reading around a subject.

Can you tell me why the art of copywriting is not the art of copy writing? How did it come to be this one word ‘copywriting’?’

Glenn replied, saying

“The honest answer is I have no idea.

But it’s an interesting question, David.

I assume it’s derived from a piece of writing being know as ‘the copy’ and therefore the person who writes the copy becomes know as the copy writer and it eventually joined to become a noun.

I’m not sure it’s the best description for what we do. It’s almost impossible to describe oneself as a copywriter and expect someone to know what one does.

I often just refer to myself as a writer these days.

Let me know if you get to the bottom of the conundrum.”

I asked Drayton Bird the same question, and he replied:

“I have no idea.

But I do think that the two words could be construed as writing that copies.

Copy-writing, however may work.

Anyhow the word copy goes back to the use of the word copy, used in newspapers.

Drayton”

I didn’t really understand Drayton’s answer, but the last bit reminded me that the word was used / is used? for the piece of text that is going to be used in an article in a newspaper, as in ‘Have that copy on my desk by nine o’ clock tomorrow morning.’


Do you dear reader have an opinion on the subject, or know something of how copywriting as one word came about?

8 Comments

  1. I think I understand Drayton’s answer. Copy writing could be copying out some other bit of writing, whereas copy is, as you say, a descriptive term for a bit of text, so copywriting is writing a bit of text, not copying a bit of writing. Could you say the same would apply for instance to ‘hand washing’ and ‘handwashing’ (if you see what I mean). Oh dear, this is very arcane…. but I love conundrums.

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    • Thank you – I see now what Drayton means. I read his remark as a positive, as it were, and now I see he was saying how if it was two words it could be construed as writing that copies (albeit magically, because I don’t know how it could). I am tempted to say that by that logic, photocopying is one word for the same reason, but I am not sure how far that holds up.

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  2. This was an extremely interesting post, David. To me, as a non-native speaker of the language, the ‘copy’ part of the word has been bugging me but the comments here have cleared up a lot in my mind 🙂

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      • Along with prepositions, I’ve always had a problem with which words are ‘one word’ or two … weeknights for example, but in this case the word copy confused me further.

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        • That made me smile because I was looking for unusual interpretations, so for a moment I saw it as ‘wee knights’ – probably the influence of having lived in Scotland where everything is ‘wee’ – It’s been a wee while since we met / There’s a wee bookshop on the corner / I put the wee one in the nursery / etc.

          Yes, prepositions are the difficult ones. Tamara has pointed out that we use them differently to how they use them in the U.S. For example, I might say I am ‘on a course’ referring to a course of study at a college. In American English ‘on a course’ would only be used for something moving – like a ship on a course towards an island or wherever. And we say ‘at the weekend’ and Americans say ‘on the weekend’ which sounds odd to my ear.

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        • I always get a smile out of weeknights … I use the word ‘wee’ quite frequently, so I see those tiny knights in my inner vision. While learning the language, I tend to pick up words and expressions from my closest environment [my husband], and he likes ‘wee’ 🙂

          Right now; when I start to think about the course and weekend … I don’t know which preposition I’d use. Since I was taught British English in school, and then tried to adapt to American English later in life, I get mixed up easily. I still take out the rubbish and leave my car in the car park, though.

          Liked by 1 person

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