In Praise of TK: Why the Handy Shorthand Has a Surprising Emotional Hold on Me
Sophie Vershbow on the Remnants of Past Careers That Stay with Us
“Sorry to interrupt, what does TK mean?” I hear a puzzled voice ask the presenter of the video call I’m in. Having spent the past decade working in book publishing I almost unmute myself to shout out the answer, but as I’m brand new to the company I wait for the presenter to politely reply. In that moment, I am so grateful not to be the only person at my new tech job who insists on using TK.
Simply put, TK is publishing and journalism lingo for “to come.” Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House and author of the delightful grammar book Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, explains that TK is “inserted into text, most often by the author, to call attention to something that isn’t yet included at either the manuscript or page proofs stage that needs to be included before a book goes to print.”
If you’re wondering how a bunch of writers missed that “come” starts with a C, not a K, there’s a good reason for the swap. TK, or the even more visible TKTK (or a really feisty TKTKTK), is used in place of TC because TK is a unique and visually arresting letter combination. Being able to easily spot the indication is especially important when copyediting a soon-to-be printed book or magazine that cannot be updated with a few clicks of your content management system. Even with digital publications, doing a command-F search for “TK” is a lot faster than wading through all of the t-c combinations in your document.
Despite its clear purpose, using “TK” outside of book publishing or journalism often leads to confused stares. “I use TK and almost no one ever knows what it” one commenter wrote in response to my tweet on the topic. “I still use it in my tech job and people always ask what it means,” wrote another.
Erika Kerekes, who started her career in magazine publishing before moving into online content and social media strategy has explained TK to everyone she’s ever worked with, which initially came as a surprise to her. “I thought anyone who had worked in a writing-heavy field would have come across it…[but] all the PR/social/general media people have been puzzled.” Kerekes calls TK “the most useful shorthand I have” and continues to employ it when building out presentations, press materials, website copy, etc.
For Anna Held, being able to bring something different to the table in the early days of her career transition from educational publishing into tech was a good thing. “It’s cool to be able to teach colleagues useful tactics from my area of expertise, too,” she said, especially when you’re drowning in a sea of brand new business jargon and company-specific acronyms. Held plans to bring TK along wherever her career takes her. “It’s my job to bring best practice in all things writing to the table… I barely consider TK a publishing term, even though I know it is. To me, TK is just another tool to get work done. If you’re writing, you should use the best writing tools you have, whether you’re in publishing or not.”
For me, holding onto TK instead of sliding into the layman’s alternatives isn’t just a matter of utility— it’s about holding onto a piece of myself that I’m not fully ready to let go of. Being in book publishing was a big part of my personality for most of my adult life, and figuring out how to express my connection to books without it being directly tied to my job is something I’m still figuring out.
Like many people who leave low-paying passion-based industries in search of financial stability and fewer side hustles, I’m torn to no longer be a part of a community that once meant so much to me. My days are no longer occupied by three-hour launch meetings filled with imprints and comps and backlists, but a whole new vocabulary of tech jargon. Once relevant to my job, If I brought up the subtle nuances between Jenna Bush Hager and Reese Witherspoon’s book club picks, my new colleagues would say “that’s nice, but how is this relevant to anything you’re working on?”
Writing TK instead of TBD is my way of raising a tiny flag saying, “look here, I’m still one of you. I’m still a part of this.” It’s a small act, but doing so helps me to feel more like myself at work amidst a wave of professional change. It’s a tangible manifestation of the time I spent in an industry I loved but left for all the right reasons.
“Like a lot of things in my world, [TK is] one of those charming eccentricities” Dreyer said of the shorthand. A charming eccentricity many of us lovingly take with us when we go.