How to write rock 'n' roll

Rock & Roll


rock’n roll

rock n’ roll

rock and roll

I've seen all these forms and more in my editing work, and it's my job to figure out which one to keep. 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 when the issue came up again recently, 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, though 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.

But that's just for news editing style. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which most book publishers follow, doesn’t like rock  ’n’ roll as a first choice, either. According to that dictionary, rock ’n’ roll is acceptable, but the preferred form is rock and roll.

If you're using a version with apostrophes, make sure your word processing program doesn't turn your first apostrophe into an open single quotation mark, which curves in the opposite direction. If it does, just type a second apostrophe after the first one then delete the first one.

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