Why Is Copywriting Called Copy? | Etymology


When you hear the word copy you might think it refers to imitating or reproducing something. Though that’s one meaning of the word, the terms copy and copywriting have additional meanings.

Copywriting is called copy because the word originated from the Latin word copia. Since the invention of this word, it has evolved in meaning. Copy is the correct term for written content in the world of marketing and advertising. Those who write copy are known as copywriters.

In this post, we will discuss how copywriting came to be known as the production of copy. There is an interesting history behind the roots of this word, so let’s get started!

A Quick Overview Of The Meaning Of Copywriting

Copywriting is the creation of a text that is meant for a specific purpose such as marketing and advertising. The copywriting process results in a product that is commonly referred to as copy.

The intent of writing copy is to increase brand awareness and ultimately convince buyers to take the desired action.

The Meaning Of The Word Copy

For most people, the word copy refers to the action of reproducing a document (either physically or digitally).

In modern times, the latter is more common due to the rise of computers where you can easily copy a file. Copy can also refer to the act of reproducing another person’s work illegally.

For example, plagiarism is a type of copying. This practice can get people in trouble, hence there is sometimes a negative connotation around the word copy.

As a result, it becomes confusing ‌when a piece of original content is referred to as copy. To find out why copywriting is referred to as copy, it helps to study the origin of the word.

The Etymology Of The Term Copy

The word copy traces its roots back to the old French word copie and from the Latin word copia. In mediaeval Latin, the word copia meant abundance or transcript.

Additionally, the word meant the power to reproduce abundant copies. The word copy made its way into the English language in the mid-1300s.

By the 15th century the word copy evolved to refer to any form of writing.

As the 18th century ended and the 19th century began, the word copy started gaining popularity in the field of journalism and advertising.

During this era, newspaper reporters typed their articles, then made use of carbon papers to reproduce several copies at once.

During the reproduction of these articles, the copy boy would deliver one copy to the typesetter and another to the editor.

At around the same time, an advertisement writer coined the term copywriter to help differentiate himself from the one who wrote news.

A translation into modern language reveals that the words copywriter and copywriting meant original writer and original writing, respectively.

Then came Emory John Powers, the father of copywriting and the first full-time independent copywriter.

He worked for a famous departmental store where he generated six newspaper ads each week for publishing. The result? The departmental store experienced a significant increase in sales.

These results earned John Powers the title of the father of modern creative advertising. His writing was based on the truth, so he was instrumental in bringing positive attention to copywriting.

A simple, clear and concise writing style characterized the Powers style. Following the success of his tactics, many other‌ copywriters came into the limelight.

And that is how copywriting came to be. Its product also became known as copy.

1. How Is Copy Used Nowadays?

Aside from its conversational meaning, the word copy in the 21st century is also used to refer to published content whether in print or digital form. Copy is now used in more areas than just advertising.

In these areas, the aim of written copy is usually to persuade readers to take a specific action that would eventually lead to a sale.

Copy is now used in books, website pages, blogs, emails etc. It can act as short form or long form content. However, if you’re in the business, you may have heard of content writers as well.

If copywriters write copy for blogs and websites, does it mean that content writers and bloggers can also write copy? This is a good question, especially if you’re thinking of hiring a new writer.

how is copy used

What Is The Difference Between Copywriting And Content Writing?

Although both forms of writing target the same publications, the difference between them lies in the intent. Copywriting aims to produce content that persuades the readers to take a desired action.

Examples of targeted actions in copywriting include signing up for an email list, buying a product, downloading an ebook, registering for a webinar, or joining a membership.

Subsequently, each copy contains a powerful call to action that compels readers to act.

On the other hand, content writing involves creating content that is meant to educate, inform or entertain the target audience.

And although the lines between the two are often blurred, copywriting generally involves shorter texts compared to content writing.

This is not a firm rule, though, and it’s not uncommon to come across long-form copy and short blog posts. Therefore whether text is content or copy depends on its purpose instead of how long it is.

Another way to differentiate the two is by use of accompanying elements. In this case, content writing is more detailed since the text can include infographics, videos, and images.

On the contrary, copywriting mainly focuses on the written text.

2. Copywriting Vs. Copyright: Do You Know The Difference?

Copyright and copywriting sound the same, so these terms are often confused. You will face this a lot, especially if you pitch your services to a person who does not know what the difference is.

These terms are both important, but they have separate meanings. Copywriting is the creation of persuasive content (often referred to as copy) for marketing purposes.

Aside from marketing, copy is also written to create brand awareness and educate or inform the target audience.

On the other hand, a copyright is a legal right of ownership that protects someone’s original ideas.

A copyright gives the owner an exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of their work for rent, public display, or sale. A violation of copyright puts the offender in trouble with the law.

Copywriting Vs. Copyright

Is There A Need For A Copyright In Copywriting?

Although it doesn’t seem like copywriting and copyright could ever go hand in hand, they do!

For instance, if a small business needs copy, they may hire a copywriting agency or a professional copywriter to do the work.

Depending on the contract signed by the parties, the small business can become the exclusive owner of the copy or an owner or assignee.

On the same note, a copywriter may include a piece of work in their portfolio if it has some form of copyright.

Final Thoughts

The roots of the word copy in copywriting can be traced back to the 13th century, when the Latin word copia entered the English language. Back then, the word meant abundance.

As it evolved, the word copy became popular among newspapermen who used carbon papers to produce more news articles.

By the 17th century, the word evolved further to include text written for purposes of advertising. And that is how copywriting came to be known as copy.

Shailen Vandeyar

A proud Indian origin Kiwi who loves to do BJJ and play with his pet bunny when not taking a plunge into the vast ocean of funnel design, email marketing, copywriting, conversions, and customer retention.

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