[Ads-l] "goal" or "gaol"?

Joel Berson berson at ATT.NET
Thu Mar 31 02:57:32 UTC 2016

In Boston newspapers of the 1730s, it is almost exclusively "goal". I haven't exhaustively searched EAN.

When I first started reading those newspapers, I too was puzzled.  I still am.  

The OED entry for "goal" does not anywhere contain either "gaol" or "jail" (neither sense nor quotation).  The OED entry for "gaol" is merely a cross-reference to "jail".  

The OED entry for "jail", "Etymology", says, authoritatively, "In U.S. jail is the official spelling. It is difficult to say whether the form goal(e, common, alike in official and general use, from the 16th to the 18th cent., was merely an erroneous spelling of gaol, after this had itself become an archaism, or was phonetic: compare modern French geôle /ʒol/ ."  [An "erroneous spelling" seems very unlikely, considering the large numbers of instances in American newspapers.  Did every publisher/printer make the same mistake?  Remember, one was Ben Franklin.]

The Etymology does not mention that "goal" was used in England also; the OED's "jail" entry contains some quotations with that spelling in English works from 1572 to 1779.


      From: George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
 Sent: Wednesday, March 30, 2016 10:06 PM
 Subject: [ADS-L] "goal" or "gaol"?
Benjamin Barrett asked me: Is “goal” an auto-correct for “gaol”?
 (referring to "This Morning an Indian Wench was committed to Goal" in my
post of earlier today)

No.  The 18th C NYC newspapers were strangely inconsistent in spelling
"gaol" -- it was at least equally likely to be "goal" -- perhaps even more

I can see "gaol" as representing the same sound as "jail" -- how "goal"
gets in, I can't figure.  Perhaps they had a mental auto-correct?


George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

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

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

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