Copyediting Halloween

The nights are getting longer and leaves are abandoning the trees. There’s a chill to the air and a soft scent of decay. October is coming to an end, and Halloween is nearly here.

But is it Halloween or Hallowe’en? All Hallow Even, All Hallows’ Eve, or Allhallows Eve? How do you copyedit all the words particular to this time of year?


The preferred spelling of the holiday is Halloween. Most US dictionaries consider Hallowe’en a variant. The dictionaries vary a little more when it comes to the origin of the name. All Hallow Even seems to be the most common, followed by Allhallowmas even; for current use, however, both are considered archaic. Instead, use Halloween or, if you want the Catholic holiday, All Saints’ Eve.


With hyphens and an apostrophe. Also, don’t capitalize “jack” except at the beginning of a sentence or in a title. A pumpkin doesn’t become a jack-o’-lantern until you’ve carved a face into it. Technically, pumpkins carved with cats, cauldrons, or other shapes are not jack-o’-lanterns; however, common usage calls them such.

Trick or treat

When used as a noun or as dialogue, “trick or treat” has no hyphens. However, you trick-or-treat or go trick-or-treating and become a trick-or-treater.


When writing about the supernatural entity or trying to insult somebody, don’t capitalize “witch.” If you want to avoid biased language, you might specify a “fairy-tale witch” or “wicked witch.” When you’re talking about actual people who practice witchcraft, it gets a little more complicated.

If the person follows a religion that has Witchcraft in the name, the person is a Witch. From the Chicago Manual of Style, the name of the religion, its adherents, and adjectives derived from its name should be capitalized. So a member of Traditional Initiatory Witchcraft is a Witch. A person who follows Wicca, a form of religious witchcraft named after the Old English term for witch, might be a Wiccan, a Witch, or of the Wicca.

If the person practices nonreligious witchcraft or spiritual witchcraft without a named religion, the word should not be capitalized.

As a further note on bias-free language, be careful when using “witch” to describe somebody from another culture, particularly if you’re translating from another language. To them, “witch” might be pejorative. Depending on the circumstances, magic worker, healer, wise woman, their untranslated word, or some other term might be more appropriate.

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