Lead vs. lede: Does it even matter?

Journalism isn’t always this trivial—or shouldn’t be—but renewed debate among editors and writers on which spelling of the word is correct is a reminder of what’s most important.


Are you ready for a nerdy journalism debate? I sure hope so. What’s the proper spelling: lead or lede?

Credit the great Romenesko (via Bleacher Report) for rehashing this age-old debate on whether to refer to the first sentence of an article as the “lead” or, harkening back to the days of linotype, “lede.”

Howard Owens explains:

“Some years ago, researching the evolution of ‘objective journalism,’ I cracked open many of these old books, and something struck me — in none of these old books did any author spell the word ‘lede.’ They all spell it ‘lead.’

“It was then I realized, there is no historic basis for the spelling of a lead as ‘lede.’ ‘Lede’ is an invention of linotype romanticists, not something used in newsrooms of the linotype era.

“It’s really emblematic of today’s print nostalgia, too — like Desi and Lucy sleeping in separate beds — a longing for an America that never was, or wasn’t quite what you thought it was.”

Perhaps pathetically, I still remember ledes (or leads) that I’m particularly proud of. “In cod they trust” for a story about a husband/wife team of scentless fish oil innovators was a particular favorite.

My advice to fellow writers: Doesn’t matter how you spell the word, as long as the ones you write are good.

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