Why is it Called Copywriting?

A brief history of the word “copy”

The word copy can mean a few things.

We all know about making a paper copy, with a copier for example.

But in marketing, copy simply means words or text. For example, marketers would say, “That webpage has strong copy. Or, that email has great copy.”

Why do marketers say copy, when they mean text or words, which is what they are. And why are copywriters called exactly that? (Not to be confused with copyright, which is a legal term).

Well, it’s not so simple.

The Definition of “Copy” – a History Lesson

According to Merriam Webster, “copy”, got its start in the 14th century from the Middle English “copie”, from the Anglo French that derived from Latin as “copia” – as in abundance.

Yet, according to the “Dictionary of Word Origins” by John Ayto, the word “copia” had a second meaning in Latin.

That of “right” or “power”, which could also mean the right to reproduce.

In the Middle Ages, “copia” later came to mean “transcript”, as in to transcribe something. By the 1500's, “copy” meant to reproduce any form of writing.

Despite all that word history, it’s probably a more recent phenomenon that caused the current definition to stick.

The Word “Copy” Today

Even though the word “copy” described writing, it wasn’t until the 20th century when the word and its meaning became to mean advertising writing, almost exclusively.

Now it is true that those that worked in newspapers or magazines often used the word “copy” to describe words in an article or story. But, journalists or reporters, even today, never refer to themselves as “copywriters”.

Copywriters became known as those that work in marketing or advertising, striving to perfect the art and craft of writing compelling copy.

And that is why copy is called copy.