Copyediting Lingo: What You Need to Know!

After hearing an NPR segment featuring an interview with Ben Stiller discussing movie lingo, a few of us here at CambridgeEditors thought this would make a great piece (or two) for our own blog!

Today, we are going to talk about copyediting jargon and what some of the more commonly used terms and phrases actually mean. Look forward to future posts delving into more terminology used by editors and publishers!

So, without further ado, here is a list we’ve created of some of the most popular copyediting lingo! Feel free to leave a comment if we missed anything important!

1. Live Copy: this one might be easy enough. This is the copy of text that has been sent to the printer and has been returned to the copyeditor. Typically this version is checked to ensure no errors were introduced during printing.

2. Dead Copy: not to worry, nobody died! The dead copy goes hand-in-hand with the live copy. The dead copy is what was originally sent out to the printer. This was the final edited version of whatever text the copyeditor has been working on. This dead copy is compared to the live copy. If there are errors in the live copy, the copyeditor must make the necessary corrections and inform the printer.

3. Callout: while nobody is getting called out in front of the teacher, the callout is important when it comes to design. A callout is used by editors and copyeditors to mark space where art will be placed. This is important so formatting stays in tact and an accurate page count can be determined before going to print.

4. Track Changes: this might be something that you are familiar with outside of copyediting, but this tool is crucial to anyone who edits or copyedits electronically. Track changes is a feature on Microsoft Word documents that allows users to see the changes that have been made to a document. Even more helpful is the feature in track changes that allows different users’ changes to show up in different colors so everyone can see exactly who changed what.


5. Folio: no, this is not short for portfolio. A folio is what is used by editors and publishers to distinguish page numbers. Folios may also be referenced as drop folios (where the page number is found at the bottom of the page).

6. Leading: pronounced like “led” this term refers to the space between each line. This is more important when it comes to the design of the text, but still important nonetheless. (Have you ever read a book where the lines were so close together your eyes had trouble focusing? If so, the leading was very small).

7. Orphan: copyeditors use the term orphan when they have a single line (first in a paragraph) that appears by itself at the bottom of a page.

8. Widow: this term, as you may have guessed, it the opposite of orphan. A widow is a single line (end of the paragraph) that is found at the top of the page.

9. TK: this is ultimately just a placeholder, short for “to come.” This is used in situations where material is not yet ready or is being added during a later stage of the production process. Watch out for publications that miss these placeholders during the proofreading stages: instead of a caption under a photo you may see “TKTKTKTKTKTK.” (You may also see Lorem Ipsum, which has a similar function).


The photo above came from a Singapore newspaper, in which the Lorem Ipsum was forgotten and published for readers in April of 2014.

10. Style Sheet: this is a very important document for editors and copyeditors. This lists every change or decision the copyeditor has made that is not standard. For example, if there is a unique spelling of a word, the copyeditor may add this word to their style sheet so anyone that looks at the document from then on won’t think this word is misspelled. The style sheet can also be used for grammatical choices such as whether or not to leave spaces after em dashes.

These are just 10 terms that copyeditors use in their work. There is so much jargon for the editing industry it is hard to pick just 10! Once again, if you think we missed something important or interesting, we would love for you to comment below!

Stay tuned for future installments on this subject matter as we delve into the jargon of the publishing industry and writers!


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