Fwd: Past tense Spelling

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Oct 27 14:26:18 UTC 2008

On Mon, Oct 27, 2008 at 10:19 AM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at att.net> wrote:
> I either learned or developed the "rule" that if the vowel was short
> but could also be pronounced long, then the consonant was doubled; if
> the vowel was long but could also be pronounced short then the vowel
> was not doubled.  This probably means "in the context of the word,
> even though there might be no actual word with that vowel pronunciation."
> Thus "kidnap" to "kidnapped", like a short sleep but unlike the neck.
> "Travel" becomes "traveler", (about twice as many Google hits as
> "traveller", but when there are 34 million of the latter, I suppose
> it's acceptable).  But I would be confused about "canceled" vs.
> "cancelled" (more than twice as many millions as
> "canceled").  Perhaps a doubled L because one might imagine "can sealed"?
> As for "when" (David Metevia's original question), in the 18th
> century there were fewer problems with the past tense -- many were
> spelled with 'd.  :-)  But from my reading in the 18th century I have
> a sense that the practice with respect to doubling changed some time
> towards the end of the 18th century.  Not hard evidence, but perhaps
> a time to begin looking.

Noah Webster usually gets the credit for the American spellings of
"traveler", "canceled", and so forth. More here:


--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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