"preferred" pronunciations & spellings

Bob Haas highbob at MINDSPRING.COM
Thu Mar 15 21:43:16 UTC 2001

I stand corrected, Allen.  Thanks.


> From: AAllan at AOL.COM
> Reply-To: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2001 14:58:33 EST
> Subject: "preferred" pronunciations & spellings
> One of the most common myths about dictionaries is that whenever a dictionary
> reports variation, the first item it reports is preferred, as in:
> << the preferred pronunciation is "nitch," with "neesh" as a second
> pronunciation >>
> Here is what the American Heritage (4th ed) has to say on the subject:
> "All pronunciations given here are acceptable in all circumstances. When more
> than one pronunciation is given, the first is assumed to be the most common,
> but the difference in frequency may be insignificant."
> The same myth is even more widely and deeply believed about spellings: that
> the first is "preferred." Here is what AHD4 has to say about that:
> "All [spelling] variants shown in this Dictionary are acceptable in any
> context unless a restrictive label, such as a dialect label, indicates
> otherwise. . . . the word _or_ joining an entry word and its variant form or
> forms indicates that these forms occur with virtually equal frequency. . . ."
> Now the thing about print (and language in general) is that it is not
> simultaneous but sequential, so some form must come first. In spelling, guess
> what: the dictionary will put equal forms in alphabetical order. That's why
> "traveler" comes before "traveller" (with an _or_ in between). But people
> reading that will assume "traveler" is preferred.
> Not a big deal . . . it's just a pet peeve of mine. - Allan Metcalf

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