The Word Mechanic

:Ask Kim Elliott, The Word Mechanic

Once upon a time, I promised a friend that I would provide an answer to their word-related question on my website. I think I might have owed my friend some money because I immediately answered the question and threw in some handy dandy supplemental reading suggestions.

Question #1: Shouldn't copy editor be two words? Your question highlights the fact that language is alive and evolving. Sometimes, language changes overnight--say hello to the verb "google." In other cases, old and new terms uneasily coexist for many years. Copyeditor and copy editor are acceptable terms. Many compound nouns that begin life as two words slowly merge into one (e.g., proofreader, shopkeeper, wallpaper, bookshelf). This can be a painful and contentious process for those who work with words. For example, I prefer the term copyeditor, but I am confident that a posse of diehard copy editors is waiting to jump me in an alley. Thank you for Asking the Mechanic.

To help you along, here is a brief list of some of my favorite resources.

Write Right: A Desktop Digest of Punctuation, Grammar, and Style will help you remember everything that your 6th grade English teacher taught you about grammar. Author Jan Venolia is a genius; this clear, easy-to-use, slim volume should be on your shelf.

The Merriam-Webster Book of Word Histories is a great book to consult when you find yourself wondering, "Where on earth did that word come from?" Amaze your friends with your dazzling word knowledge!

Edit Yourself: A Manual for Everyone Who Works with Words by Bruce Ross-Larson will help you be brutal in reshaping your writing. We all work with words, and, with the aid of this slim volume, your words will become lean, mean, fighting machines.

Go back to school with Grammar: A Student's Guide by James R. Hurford. This A–Z guide to language is very in-depth, but well worth tackling. Use the guide as a reference book, or take a deep breath and do the exercises.

As an editor, I must insist that you read The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White; this book is a classic. As a writer, I must insist that you read everything that E.B. White wrote. His elegant, deft way with words makes The Word Mechanic blush with shame.


"Kim is one of the best, most efficient, and professional Web content developers I know. Her outstanding writing and editing skills, along with her keen attention to detail, make her an asset to any development team. If you need content, your text needs punching up, or you just need a ‘second pair of eyes’ to make sure your site is flawless, get in touch with Kim."

—Bob Duncan,
Director of Development Technologies
Education Development Center