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Ich esse einen Berliner
Wednesday, October 3, 2007   3:01 PM

Or preferably, a Long John. (A minor controversy among donut lovers: is the eclair a type of Long John, or are they separate donut species?)

More spelling stuff today. I overheard this from the non-proofreaders early this morning:

Speaker 1: Wait, how do you spell doughnut?
Speaker 2: It's just D-O-U-G-H-N-U-T.
Speaker 1: Huh.
Speaker 3: How did you live this long without learning how to spell doughnut!?

To my credit, I refrained from butting in with a "language belongs to the people!" The Columbia Guide to Standard American English has this to say about doughnut:

Doughnut is the conventional spelling, donut a variant used in advertising or signs and as eye dialect.

That was back in 1993, mind you. Also: eye dialect, really?

Doughnut or donut is an especially tricky word because, from where I'm sitting, donut (a word we've had since at least 1929) is either Standard American English or just on the cusp of becoming so.

In terms of its acceptability, donut has lagged behind hiccup (for hiccough) and outpaced thru (for through). And if tho (for though) is ever going to become Standard, it's not going to happen this century. The chapter "Simplified Spelling" from H.L. Mencken's 1921 book The American Language covers these and other spelling changes in more detail.

If you'd asked me to spell it, I probably would have come up with donut before I thought of doughnut. Both spellings are completely standard for me, although I have a preference for doughnut in edited English.

A funny thing about doughnut, via Wikipedia:

The earliest known recorded usage of the term dates an 1808 short story [2] describing a spread of "fire-cakes and dough-nuts." Washington Irving's reference to "doughnuts" in 1809 in his History of New York is more commonly cited as the first written recording of the term. Irving described "balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog's fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks."

As the entry goes on to note, the original recipes used balls of dough (hence nuts), but the now-archetypal ring donut was so successful that it produced the retronym donut holes.


I think the more common a word, and the easier it is to spell, the more slowly its spelling will change when in transition. This might explain why "donut has lagged behind hiccup and outpaced thru" as you say.

Incidentally, the spelling 'doughnut' is still more common than 'donut' here in the UK – the latter seems an Americanism, although I am seeing it more frequently (especially since Krispy Kreme has started popping up everywhere).

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