Connotative differences in spelling

Lynne Murphy lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK
Wed Oct 18 10:18:25 UTC 2000

>Here's an example that might satisfy Doug Wilson's search: LITE vs LIGHT.
>Someone used LITE in passing yesterday in a note on the list.

That does have a denotative difference:  'lite' is what the govt has
approved for foods (you can't claim that they're lighter, but you can
claim that they're 'lite'), and it's spread to other senses, so that
it means "something with less content"--like the Eudora Lite e-mail
program, which has fewer features and takes up less space on your

Which is not to say that it's not also used as an alternative
(advertising-type) spelling for 'light'.

True story:  when discussing differences in American and Brit/South
African English in both the latter countries, I've had it told to me
that "Americans spell 'light' as 'lite' and 'night' as 'nite'."  I've
tried to explain the concept of advertising spelling to them and
insist that we do not seriously spell the words that way when
writing, but one of the students insisted that Americans do too spell
it that way, and she knows because she has an American penpal.  It
was hard to continue the conversation without insulting her
penpal--but I was thinking "Well, she probably dots her i's with
hearts too, but that doesn't mean that respectable people do it."
But in both the cases where this has happened, I've got(ten) the
feeling that my interlocutor didn't believe me at all.  They KNOW
that Americans spell things like that!  (Just as my mother is sure
that the British eat scones and clotted cream every day.)

M. Lynne Murphy
Lecturer in Linguistics
School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 3AN    UK
phone:  +44(0)1273-678844
fax:    +44(0)1273-671320

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