judg(e)ment

At some point in my American education, I learned that judgment was an American spelling and judgement was the preferred British spelling. Ditto acknowledgment and acknowledgementBut then I moved to England and grew up (possibly in that order) and reali{s/z}ed that nothing is ever that simple. (Though I see some poor souls [read: schools] on the internet are happy to promulgate the simplification.)

The e-ful versions of these words show up as 'more British than American' in the GloWbE corpus, but it's pretty clear from the numbers that it's not a straightforward difference. Here are the raw numbers:


with the E
without the E


And here, more readably, are the proportions. BrE does prefer the e-ful versions, but not absolutely. AmE has completely mixed feelings about acknowledgement and while it mostly prefers judgment without that e, it still has 25% e-ful judgement. (Yes, I know that there's still an e in the version I'm not calling e-ful. Don't be difficult. You know what I mean.)

acknowledgement AmE 56% BrE 77%, judgement AmE 25% BrE 63%
(includes singular and plural)


Now, you might look at this kind of thing and think: it's those Americans getting rid of letters again. Noah Webster, to whom many attribute American spelling habits, was not a fan of 'silent e' and tried to get rid of it elsewhere. (For example, he wanted to spell improve as improov.) But judgment is no Websterian Americanism. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that though judgement had an e early on (coming, as it did, from French jugement), the e had started to drop out by the 16th century, and judgment was the prevailing spelling in by the end of the 17th century. Both judgment and acknowledgment are e-less in Samuel Johnson's 1755 dictionary

It was only in the 19th century that the e-ful judgement regained popularity in British contexts—I assume acknowledg(e)ment followed suit, but the OED has less info about that word. It's not surprising that the e gained traction, since using the e before the -ment suffix does some helpful things: 
  • it keeps the spelling of the root word (judge, acknowledge) intact
  • it signals the 'softness' of the g before the suffix ('soft' g's typically only go before e, i or y)
  • it avoids a weird letter combination: dgm
But you'd never know that judgement is "British English" if you looked in some places. Here's what the spelling is like in the UK Parliamentary record. Pretty darned e-less.


That's because legal language tends to be more conservative. In British law, judgment has no e.

This makes judg(e)ment just one more British word that has a spelling/form variation depending on professional context:

Some of those splits in BrE spelling are due to the influence of AmE, but in the case of judg(e)ment, we have (non-legal) BrE innovating while AmE mostly didn't change. If either variety is influencing the other, it might be BrE's allowance of those e's in judgment and acknoweledgement that's causing AmE to be more tolerant of the longer spellings. 

20 comments

  1. Oh, I should have called this post 'to E or not to E'!

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  2. Very interesting, as ever!
    I always put the 'e's in, personally, and I confess I'd never noticed that there was a choice.
    (Incidentally, I think you have 'disc' and 'disk' the wrong way round. I'd have thought 'disc' was general BrE, and 'disk' was AmE & BrE computerese.)

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    1. That was the thing that I was supposed to re-check before hitting 'post', and then I forgot to. Thanks for letting me know. I always have to look that one up!

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    2. As an American computer user of longstanding (I bought my first PC in 1986), I think of "disk" as a shortened form of "floppy disk" and "disc" as a lesser-used synonym of CD, which stands for "compact disc".

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    3. So, a newbie. :-)

      I programmed my first computer in 1971. It didn't even use discs (or disks). We put everything in on paper tape.

      I started work in 1973. Again, loading programs from paper tape but we could load things to a disc drive. But it was fixed drive. The computer was an Argus 500 made by Ferranti, based in Manchester. I'm sure they used British spellings in their documentation.

      It must have been 10-15 years before I used floppies. Even then, a system I worked on in the eighties we took software to site on disc packs. When I mentioned to my father I was transporting stuff on discs, he assumed I meant floppies, but these were giant 70Mbyte disc packs, about the size, shape and weight of a curling stone. I don't drive and was travelling by train. I'm sure my arms stretched a couple of centimetres each trip.

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  3. In computerese, "disk" is used for magnetic drives (like hard disk drives and floppy disks), while "disc" is used for optical drives (like CDs and DVDs). Otherwise I agree with Grhm that "disk" is more American and "disc" is more UK. (Sony and Philips were the companies that developed CDs, which may explain that choice.)

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    1. Yes, that was the product of me working too fast late at night. Now change, thanks.

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  4. I'm sure that back in the seventies in the computing departments for the old CEGB, we used to refer to discs. This was possibly because many of our computers were from British companies and used UK spellings. There was also a difference in bit numbering when describing computer words - one numbered from left to right, the other from right to left.

    (It was also there I was told that -ize was an Americanism and we shouldn't use it in our documents. I'd been taught both -ize and -ise were acceptable and I liked writing those curly zeds in the cursive script I'd been taught at school.)

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  5. At my Canadian law school, we were taught in the first week that "judgment" was spelt without an "e" and that if that spelling was good enough for Lord Denning it was good enough for law students. I have a friend who was American and moved to Canada and learnt to spell the word "judgement"". Then she went to law school and had to relearn how to spell it. She's doing her articles now and tells me that she has to look up the "approved" spelling every time she writes an opinion for her principal, who is me. I tell her that after years of reading Lynne Murphy I know not to take too prescriptive a perspective and that she can relax.

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  6. I don't think it matters that much, but prefer inserting the 'e' because otherwise the 'g' would be hard. I've never encountered the argument that it particularly mattered that it was spelt without the 'e' in legal circles and I practised law for over 40 years.

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    1. I have been thinking for the past couple of weeks about whether there are other words or combinations of letters that can omit the 'e' before -ment, and I don't believe there are. It must be unique to the -dg(e) ending on these words.
      Atonment, postponment, advancment; no, it doesn't work!

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    2. "Argument" drops the final "e" of "argue". Another change in spelling happens when the verb ends in an unstressed "y"; accompaniment, embodiment, worriment.

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  7. One thing about the word "disk" in the computer world is that the word is going away. Floppies are gone, CD's (nobody says "compact disc") or DVD's (nobody _ever_ said "digital video disc") are going, and physical storage is being divorced from it's logical representation--who really knows what your stuff is being stored on in the cloud.

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  8. cf Hegemony, however.

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    1. I'm not sure what point you are making there.

      In my experience no two people seem to pronounce 'hegemony' the same way.

      Sometimes the first syllable rhymes with 'edge', sometimes with 'egg'. Sometimes the final syllable rhymes with 'bunny', sometimes with 'bony'.
      And the stress can go on any one of the three syllables, apparently at random.

      So that gives 2×2×3 = 12 possible pronunciations to choose from.

      Which one do you favour?

      (Or do you hedge your money?)


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  9. Just noting ag(e)ing as another example

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    1. I'd consider that an example of a slightly different phenomenon. In this case, there's no consonant build-up and no need to insert the 'e' to soften the 'g'.

      I've covered it a little on Twitter. Some day it'll be its own blog post, as the history appears to be different as well

      https://twitter.com/lynneguist/status/461883080572424192

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    2. Brilliant, thanks. Love your work!

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  10. Kirk: I don't see see "dis{c,k}" going away, at least among more technical people. Removable media may be disappearing, but computers from a cheap laptop to the fastest server in the data center use solid-state disks for storage. Yes, the device is mostly referred to with "SSD", but usages like "write the file to disk" are common.

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  11. Abridg(e)ment and fledg(e)ling, too.
    Despite the British preference (outside legal writing, anyway) to keep the e, many British names remove it: Edgware, Hodgkin, Wedgwood, Sedgwick. To complicate things, it's Ridgway in many names, but the National Trail in southern England is The Ridgeway so spelt.

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Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)