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How do you spell voice-over? Does it matter?

Edge Studio

In the voice-over world, what does it matter how you spell stuff? We’re audio, right? So who cares how anyone spells the word “voice-over”? Should it be “voiceover,” instead? Or two separate words, as we’ve spelled it at for many years?

Well, we care. So, as you may have noticed over the past couple months, we’ve revised our spelling of “voice-over” in new content. (Existing content will take a while to convert.) It’s a decision born of long, painstaking research, involving, … uh … involving a phone call to our web developer and a quick check of a few dictionaries. Sorry we didn’t check with you, but let’s do that now …

First, it may help to review the typical evolution of a “combination” word in the English language. Usually, it begins as one word modifies another, and the combination becomes popular for whatever reason. For example, the term “solid state.” When semiconductors were invented, this combination was coined to describe them, and the term was spelled as two separate words. But when used as an adjective, that can get confusing. Suppose you’re talking (to quickly grab a tortured example) about a really well-planned, publicly-owned transportation system within, oh, Nebraska. You might say the region has a “solid state railroad system.” In other words, it’s a robust system, within that state. It has nothing to do with semiconductors, but the phrase could be mistakenly read that way. So, to avoid confusion, two-word phrases often gain a hyphen over time. That way, if you refer to a “solid-state railroad system,” it’s clear that the trains are somehow run electronically.

Over more time, many once-hyphenated words become one word, as in “bumblebee” and “bluebird.” Another example would be “turn-key” (meaning a system that you don’t have to assemble, just “turn the key” and it works). Eventually, in the 1990s we suppose, it came to be spelled “turnkey.” However, lately we’ve seen it spelled “turn-key” again. Could that be because a product might otherwise be misread as “a turkey system”? That’s not quite the impression you want to give on the cover of your sales brochure. (And it’s a good reminder to VO talent why enunciation is critical.)

So why were we spelling “voice-over” as two separate words, and why did we stick with that form for so long?

Well, that’s just how we got started many years ago. But our choice seemed vindicated when someone (we forget who) advised us that our website would show up better in search results if we spelled “voice over” as two words. In those days, searching for “voice over” also turned up a lot of hits for “Voice Over Internet Protocol” (VOIP) technology, but as search site algorithms got more sophisticated that became less of an issue. And by then, it had become sort of an Edge Studio style, so we kept on. It’s good editorial practice to spell words consistently throughout a site or document. Sometimes we’d add a hyphen just for clarity’s sake.

But our web developer advises us that there is absolutely no Search Engine Optimization (SEO) advantage to spelling it one way or another. And dictionaries say the hyphenated version is preferred.

So henceforth, we shall spell “voice-over” as … ”voice-over,” whether used as a noun, verb or adjective.

Hooray! A sentence like “She heard a voice-over there” will no longer be confused with “She heard a voice over there.” Some sources indicate we could even correctly say, “she voiced-over the video,” but that seems a bit awkward, so in those verb situations, we’re inclined to say simply that “she voiced it.” There — even that is no issue.

So far, the only regret, very small, comes from one of our editors, who was hoping for “voiceover.” He’s a touch-typist but still has to look at the keyboard to find the hyphen key on the top row.


When Are Compound Words Spelled with Hyphens?