Fwd: Past tense Spelling

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Mon Oct 27 14:19:56 UTC 2008

At 10/27/2008 12:06 AM, Wilson Gray wrote:
>I think that's one of those things about which one can never tell. I
>grew up using "kidnaped" and "canceled." When I began to work in the
>Harvard library system, I noticed that I found myself dealing with a
>lot of material that had been _CANCELLED_ or _cancelled_. After a few
>years on the job, the -lled version became not only the spelling to
>which I was accustomed, but also the one that I now prefer.

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.


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

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