Does Coworking Have a Hyphen?

It may seem silly to you, but for some of us the question “Does coworking have a hyphen?” is a big deal.  When I first came into Office Nomads and began writing for them, it was something we discussed for a long time. We ended up saying no to the hyphen. Although my initial instincts were for the hyphen, I now like it without. Independents Hall’s Alex Hillman is firm in his stance that coworking does not have a hyphen while most media outlets (especially the older, mainstream ones) are in the it-has-a-hyphen camp (read: co-working).

But I have to admit that I still feel a bit of ambiguity about the issue. I thought it worth sharing since Alex is initiating another push on the issue and it seems like the good thing to do to make sure everyone is aware of the battle they’re entering.

My understanding comes from the fact that I work as a journalist for a living and as such, I can tell you exactly why coworking appears and will continue to appear as “co-working” in most publications.

It’s the fault of the Associated Press Style Guide which is pretty much the base of every newspaper and magazine style guide out there. It has rules for just about anything from how to refer to Ford Motor Co. on the second reference (“Ford” not “FMC”) to when and how what state names should be abbreviated (There are eight that are not abbreviated: the five with five or less letters and the two that are not on the continent) to punctuation rules.

The copy editor who follows AP (and most of them follow some form of it) is going to default to a hyphen because AP says to:

co- Retain the hyphen when forming nouns, adjectives and verb that indicate occupation or status: co-worker

Like it or not, any copy editor who sees that is going to change a reference to coworking to co-working. There’s even a note that many of the “co-” words that are listed in AP are in the dictionary without a hyphen, but are given one by AP in the “interest of consistency.” So even changing the dictionary won’t help, as Alex suggested. We’ve got to get the AP to notice. And they’ve got their hands full with a failing business model to manage and a world of news to cover so it may be a long road.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and this one can be no exception. If coworking becomes well known enough by the public as opposed to co-working, media will have to change. But for now, big, old media is going to hyphenate and the smartest course of action may be to try and educate the smaller, online, and less formal media covering us.

One last word, then I’ll get off my geeky punctuation soapbox: It’s important to note that most likely, it is not the reporter’s fault if there is a hyphen. A reporter might write it without a hyphen and may even note that the word is spelled without a hyphen according to the industry, but if the copy editor decided that a hyphen is warranted, then there is nothing a beat or features reporter can do. (If someone like Thomas Friedman writes about coworking (And he should. It’s right up his alley.), he can put up a good fight with his copy editor and might get a change, so someone should pitch him on the idea.)

I took the image from a really interesting post by Jason Kintzler on about the relevance of AP in the new-media/Web 2.0 world. It’s worth the read.

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