In celebration of the best holiday of the year — Halloween, of course — ACES has put together an editorial style sheet full of ghostly terms.
So dip your pens in ink (or blood) and start copy editing content about the season. You’ll have the confidence of knowing you’re using devilishly correct usage.
- All Saints’ Day. This holiday, celebrated the day after Halloween, celebrates all the saints in the Christian pantheon. Just remember it’s their big day – so use the plural possessive for Saints’.
- bloodlust. You got it? Fine. Just don’t hyphenate it.
- devil. Capitalize when referring to the Devil himself – you know, Satan. Lucifer. The lord of evil. Lowercase, however, when referring to one of the many devils that Satan commands.
- goose bumps. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, leaves this term open. The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th edition, leaves it open, but lists goosebumps as a variant. If you’re feeling bumpy about your usage, go with the conservative goose bumps.
- grave-related terms. Hold on to your hyphenation, because according to MW and AH, these terms don’t take any. On the closed side, we’ve got gravedigger, graveside, gravestone and graveyard. And on the open side, grave site and grave marker.
- Halloween. MW and AH both provide Halloween as their primary spelling of the holiday, with Hallowe’en as a variant. And both books mentioned that the term is short for All Hallow Even, aka All Hallows’ Eve. (Note the plural possessive form of Hallows’.)
I talked to Josh Rosenberg, who managed several books of ghost stories when he was associate copy chief at Globe Pequot Press. Josh suggested that in nearly all cases, copy editors use the modern spelling of the word: Halloween. “Only if you were writing a historical novel,” Josh suggested, “and wanted to capture a period feel would you perhaps use Hallowe’en or All Hallows’ Eve.”
- ignis fatuus; pl ignis fatui. This non-italicized term is defined by AH as “a phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over swampy ground at night, possibly caused by spontaneous combustion of gases emitted by rotting organic matter.” In other words, those glowing orbs that led Merida astray in Brave.
- jack-o’-lantern. This is a tricky term, taking two hyphens and a midword apostrophe.
- Oktoberfest. This holiday ostensibly celebrates Bavarian history but is often little more than an excuse for drinking beer. Either way, spell the term with a k, not a c.
- pumpkin. The word is pumpkin, with an mp. Punkin should be used to refer only to chubby toddlers, if then.
- will-o’-the-wisp. Following jack-o’-lantern, this term takes three hyphens and that awkward midword apostrophe.
- trick or treat. This term is, well, tricky. MW lists trick or treat as a noun, but trick-or-treat as an intransitive verb, and trick-or-treater as a noun. AH’s online entry is a bit confusing. I think it says to hyphenate trick-or-treat in all forms, except when used as an interjection: a child’s cry of “trick or treat” on Halloween night.
So stick with these spelling recommendations, copy editors. May your Halloween be spooky, your trick-or-treat bag full, and your jack-o’-lantern bright.
Samantha Enslen is on the board of the American Copy Editors Society. She runs Dragonfly Editorial and is not afraid of ghosts.