Monday, March 04, 2013

-og and -ogue

Rachel Ward aka @FwdTranslations just asked me via Twitter:

Trying to check usage of epilog(ue) and prolog(ue) in US spelling. Seen suggestion that "ue" forms still more widely used. True?
 And I felt the need to blog this immediately, since this is something that niggles me about British understanding of US spelling sometimes. I am often being told that Americans don't write catalogue, they write catalog. The same for dialogue/dialog. But, the thing is, I've always (or at least since I was a grown-up) used the -ue in all of them. Because the shorter forms are only American, from the British perspective, the shorter forms are "the American spelling". But from the American perspective, most wouldn't consider the longer forms to be "the British spelling" in the same way that we'd consider colour or centre as British spellings. They're just alternative spellings, listed in American dictionaries without any dialect marking. Noah Webster is generally credited/blamed for these kinds of 'shortenings' in AmE, but he used dialogue in at least the earliest edition of his Blue-Backed Speller. The move for this change seems to have come later, in the period when Melvil(le) Dewey (he of the Dewey Decimal System) was a leading spelling-reform advocate. In an article in Verbatim on The American Spelling Reform Movement, Richard Whelan writes:

During the 1890s, a few state legislatures passed bills calling for simplified spelling to be taught in public schools, and the prestigious American dictionaries began to acknowledge the call for reform, first by listing simplifications in appendices, and eventually transferring some to the main entries as acceptable alternatives.

The turning point came in February 1897, when the National Education Association (NEA) resolved that all of its official correspondence and publications would thenceforth use simplified spellings for twelve words: catalog, decalog, demagog, pedagog, prolog, program, tho, altho, thoro, thorofare, thru, and thruout. This move brought the issue of spelling reform to wide public attention and forced even many conservatives to take seriously what they had previously dismissed as the folly of cranks

But note that the ue-less forms have pre-American precedent. For instance, the OED notes that from Middle English to the 16th century dialogue was mostly dialoge (as it was in the French of the time), and sometimes dialog. The spelling dialogue is really only seen after this, following a spelling change in French.

So, for fun, here's how some of these spellings fare in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and Noah Webster's namesake, the Merriam-Webster (online) Dictionary. The middle two columns give the raw numbers of how many of each spelling is found for the singular noun form of each of these words. The last column says which spelling is given first by Merriam-Webster.


-ogue-og M-W
catalog(ue)25594955           catalog
dialog(ue)12657               702*dialogue
epilog(ue)4908epilogue
monolog(ue)         1098 7 monologue
pedagog(ue)560** pedagogue
prolog(ue)890 3 prologue
analog(ue)1554306analogue***

So THE ONLY ONE that is more frequently used in the shorter form in AmE is catalog(ue), and even then, the longer form is well represented. In other words, the most commercial term is the most likely to use the shorter form. [And, afterthought: also the one that is closest to Dewey's heart, as a library term.] Despite the National Education Association's example, this spelling reform has not been wholly successful.

Some footnotes to the table:

*The case of dialogue is interesting because of dialog box, which is spelled/spelt without the -ue in computer jargon in both countries. This is like the case of program, which is longer (programme) in most senses in BrE, but which uses the shorter (AmE) form for the computer sense. (And color in html and so forth. One could say that America runs computing jargon, or one could say that programmers prefer shorter and consistent forms. Or one could say it's a bit of both.)  Anyhow, 375 (53%) of the 702 cases of dialog here are in the phrase dialog box and its variants (dialog boxes, dialog box-in). (There are also 18 cases of dialogue box[es].) So, this means that outside this two-word compound, dialogue outnumbers dialog in AmE by 38:1.

** There was one case of pedagogs in COCA.  There were 0 cases of demagog or demagogs. So, while M-W lists these as variants, they don't seem to have made deep inroads into the written language.

*** I meant to do analog(ue) too, and was reminded of it when commenters started asking for it, so here it is, several hours later.  This one is noteworthy because M-W says for the adjective that analogue is a 'chiefly British variant' of analog, rather than just listing it as an alternative spelling, but for the noun sense it has analogue as the preferred spelling for the noun--which is in contrast with the numbers from COCA [thanks to @empty in the comments for pointing out my error]. Like catalog and dialog box, its "technological" senses are more common. So we have a general pattern here of literary words keeping the -ue and more techie stuff dropping it.


My to-do list says that I'm (BrE) marking/(AmE) grading this morning. Please don't tell my to-do list that I was here.