Let's suppose my paper is about icebergs. The paper is accepted to a quite well known journal on a broader topic. The copy editor has changed the word "iceberg" to "ice-berg" everywhere in the paper. I have requested twice that the hyphen be removed, and the copyeditor has disagreed.

A clear majority of scientists in my field use the spelling "iceberg" but there is a minority which uses "ice-berg" in their published papers. It is easy to produce several lines of evidence that this is true.

How should I respond to this situation? My primary concern is that I want my paper to be easy to find. I do not think people are searching for papers using the term "ice-berg."

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    I had THE same issue with a highly reputed journal in materials science. I had to 1) involve the EiCs, and 2) provide 6-7 papers that were highly cited (and used the term without hyphen) for the EiCs to agree. Fyi, this was an Elsevier journal. – The Guy Jul 10 at 11:40
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    Can you locate a style guide for the journal or publisher? For example, the American Physical Society has a style manual. Well, actually they have several with contradictory information on what dictionary to use as the standard for spelling. cdn.journals.aps.org/files/styleguide-pr.pdf says to use Webster's New International Dictionary, and apps3.aps.org/communications/styleguide/index.html says to use the Miriam-Webster online dictionary. The online one gives 'iceberg'. My Collins English Dictionary (British English) also has 'iceberg'. Neither has an entry for 'ice-berg'. – Jon Custer Jul 10 at 16:58
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    I so love that the title of this says "copyediting" and the tag says "copy-editing"... pure gold :D – Lot Jul 10 at 21:32
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    Also see Donald Knuth's Email (let's drop the hyphen). Knuth is a legend in Computer Science with an amazing CV. When he asked for the hyphen to be dropped it was like word coming down from the mountain. – jww Jul 11 at 5:13
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    @Jon Custer Certainly the paper in question is not about ice-bergs. – Headcrab Jul 11 at 6:41

Putting style above content and reducing the ability to find the paper does not help anybody. My experience with copy editors is that they make and introduce far more errors and problems than they solve.

Anyway, I would discuss this with the editor that accepted your paper and give him/her the scientific reasons. This might help more than discussing the issue with the copy editor.

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    This reminds of the time that a copy editor changed "1 degree of freedom" to "1° of freedom" and I only noticed when the paper was already published. :( – jkej Jul 11 at 7:23
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    @jkej °F redefined. – Chieron Jul 11 at 14:11
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    @jkej "1° of Freedom" sounds so... American. Doesn't help that °F has connotations of America as well :) – Mad Physicist Jul 11 at 15:27
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    @Mehrdad the unit of freedom is designated by the 🦅 symbol. – barbecue Jul 11 at 22:56
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    I once wrote about typesetting and mentioned that in some fonts the symbols for ell and eye lI are difficult to distinguish - giving graphic examples. And the copyeditor changed the font because the l and I where difficult to distinguish. – Ponder Stibbons Jul 12 at 5:31

I have had this issue in the past. As a first step, look through past issues of the journal and see if they consistently apply their style guide. If they don't, provide them a few references to their articles that use your preferred version. If they consistently apply the style, your battle will be harder. Go through the articles in your reference section show them that your usage is preferred. Finally, provide them references to highly cited articles in other journals that show your usage.


Personally, I'd push-back on the copy editor's choice of "ice-berg". If you're unable to convince the copy editor, then as other's have mentioned, speak with, or exchange email with, the editor for your submission, if that's a different person than the copy editor. If you don't get satisfaction from the editor, you can raise the issue with the publication's Editor in Chief. Obviously, your final recourse is to withdraw your paper. Only you can determine how much of an issue this is for you and how far down that road you want to go.

In discussions, I usually find that it's important to have evidence to back up your choice.1 It would be good to have a sampling of papers in your area showing which version of "iceberg" vs. "ice-berg" is predominately used. I also find that for this sort of discussion, it's often convincing to use information from Google Book's Ngram Viewer (info).

For "iceberg" vs. "ice-berg", Google Book's Ngram Viewer shows that "iceberg" was used 344 times more often than "ice-berg" in 2008, and has been the dramatically predominant form, at least in Google Book's corpus, for more than 200 years:

Google Book's Ngram Viewer showing that "iceberg" is currently used 344 times more often than "ice-berg"

You can also look "iceberg" up in various dictionaries. All of the ones I checked didn't even give examples of the hyphenated version.

1. Something just being your preference is also valid, but that's not the case for this issue.

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    From "Let's say my paper is about icebergs", I assume that iceberg/ice-berg is just an example of the phenomenon and the paper is actually about something else. – David Richerby Jul 11 at 20:05
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    @DavidRicherby - sure, but it does suggest a path towards providing data to the editor(s) on what is commonly used/seen. – Jon Custer Jul 11 at 21:24
  • @DavidRicherby That's a good point. I wasn't clear in addressing that it was just an example, even to the extent of making it appear it was the actual text that was changed. I'll rewrite a bit. The point about obtaining current usage rate data to argue which written version to use is still the primary point. It may be more appropriate to increase the discussion of obtaining data from articles in the OP's area of interest. However, the OP's use of iceberg as an example makes it unclear to me if it really is an established usage, or a developing one, with iceberg picked as a poor example. – Makyen Jul 11 at 21:27
  • Ironically, because "iceberg" didn't come close to fitting a situation where the transition of the compound noun from hyphenated to unhyphenated was still in process, I actually deleted a section which I'd written explaining an argument about how compound nouns develop from hyphenated to unhyphenated versions more rapidly within subgroups like researchers focused on the area involved. – Makyen Jul 11 at 21:28

Don't worry about it. If your paper is on a topic suitable for the ArXiv, just use your preferred spelling in the ArXiv version, which is more likely to be found by google search anyway. This way people are likely to find your article regardless of which spelling variant of the keyword they use.

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    The user's username suggests (s)he is in physics were arxiv use is common. – mmeent Jul 10 at 12:40
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    No need to bash @iayork , but yeah: OP name strongly suggests he from physics. – Scientist Jul 10 at 13:13
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    @iayork No, not everyone reads usernames, but I did before answering the question, and gave an answer that I would consider most helpful to the OP based on it. If your problem is with the question not specifying the field, why are you downvoting the answer? – mmeent Jul 10 at 15:09
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    @iayork This is clearly a helpful answer. You should have commented or edited the answer and not downvoted. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 11 at 2:47
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    Upvoting, since anyone submitting to a journal good enough to provide copy editing should have the reasoning skills to understand whether this answer applies to their field or not. – user2699 Jul 11 at 13:51

You might consider voicing your concern to a member of the editorial board -- probably whoever handled your paper.

If they agree with you, then they will probably contact the journal on your behalf and request that your preferred spelling be allowed to stand. Conversely, if they think that your concerns are unwarranted or unnecessary, then you should probably drop the matter.


I suggest not worrying about it. First, even if a clear majority of the scientists in your field prefer "iceberg", the journal still has to stick to its own style. Second, it's not like people will confuse "iceberg" with "ice-berg".

If it really bothers you, then there's no point arguing with the copyeditor - they don't control the journal's style. You will have to convince the editorial board. Contact the editor who accepted your paper; he/she should know what to do.

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    Google does not do that. I checked. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 10 at 11:01
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    I'm curious what this search term is. If it's just one hyphen's worth of difference I'm genuinely surprised Google doesn't find it. Searching for "ice-berg" certainly directs me to results with "iceberg". – Allure Jul 10 at 11:39
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    @SolarMike without knowing the search term? None, which is why I wrote "chances are". – Allure Jul 10 at 11:54
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    @Allure your search is the opposite of this problem. – Anonymous Physicist Jul 10 at 11:57
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    Checking on Google scholar, "iceberg" and "ice-berg" do give radically different results for me. (The latter mostly seems like cases where the word got split across line breaks, with a space.) – Daniel R. Collins Jul 10 at 14:42

I strongly advise allowing the journal their style, since you already put up an argument.

A physics journal change $K$-theory to K theory in one of my papers. I investigated, and found the same publisher did the same thing to a Fields medalist. At that point I figured I had a funny story to tell and let it go.

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    "ice-berg" is simply nonstandard English, though. They shouldn't just roll over and accept an incorrect "correction." This isn't a "color" vs. "colour" situation (in which case it would still be unreasonable to "correct" color -> colour, since both are correct). This is more like if the copyeditor had changed "physics" to "phys-ics" everywhere in the paper. [Not quite the same, of course - "ice-berg" used to be more standard 150 years ago. As did "iceburg." Now, however, neither is.] Edit: I now see "ice-berg" was just an example. It's tough to say more without knowing the specific word. – user2258552 Jul 11 at 22:30
  • Indeed, it is hard to figure out how serious all this is without knowing the example. So I offer my concrete example. – Terry Loring Jul 11 at 23:49

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