How to Write 'Rock 'n' Roll'
Rock & Roll
rock n’ roll
rock and roll
Due to an unusual number of live musical performances mentioned in my editing work recently, most of these forms have come across my desk of late. Yes, they’re all perfectly clear and understandable. But that’s not enough for editors. We have to worry about the whole consistency issue, too. So I always change them to rock ’n’ roll.
I never bother to look it up. I know it’s rock ’n’ roll. I’ve been doing this a long time. But when I’m passing along what I know to other people -- mainly, here -- I always double-check my facts.
So I turned to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, which is the final word on these matters at the publication I edit. Here’s what I learned: The entry for rock ’n’ roll gave this for a definition: rock-and-roll.
Whenever a dictionary entry for one word refers you to the entry for another, that’s the dictionary’s way of saying that the other is the main entry -- in this case, that rock ’n’ roll is merely a variant of the preferred rock-and-roll.
That surprised me: Where did I get the idea it was rock ’n’ roll? I checked the house style guide for the publication and that’s where I found it: Our house style is rock ’n’ roll, which trumps even our house dictionary, which, thought it allows rock ’n’ roll, clearly prefers rock-and-roll. That was a relief. It meant 1. that I haven’t been doing it wrong all these years, and 2. that I don’t have to switch to the weird-looking rock-and-roll.
By the way, in case you’re more interest in book-writing style, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary doesn’t like rock ’n’ roll as a first choice, either. According to that dictionary, which many in the book publishing world follow, rock ’n’ roll is acceptable, but the preferred form is rock and roll.
So Sammy “There’s Only One Way to Rock” Hagar was wrong. So very, very wrong ...