Thursday, February 2, 2012

Language of Confusion: Gray or grey?

Over the years, I’ve seen it spelled both ways. For example, that new movie with Liam Neeson in it has the e in it, but my Crayola crayon has the a.

Yes, I have crayons. I’m not on trial here!

Anyway, remember that post I did a while back on British vs. American spelling? Yeah, this is another one of those, with the US preferring the a and the British preferring the e. If you don’t feel like clicking on the link, I’ll inform you that most of those words (i.e. favor and favour) were changed when Noah Webster, in his desire to have distinct American spellings, came out with a dictionary in 1828 that took out what he believed were extraneous letters. I mean, look at that u up there, just hanging around, letting o and r carry it through the rest of the word.

However, gray/grey is different. For one, its “proper” spelling has always waffled back and forth in both major English speaking countries. Webster preferred gray, so that stuck in the US. Across the sea, the British didn’t have a confirmed spelling for it until last century, although grey was always the more popular one.

Both spellings have the same etymological line, the Old English graeg and the Proto Germanic grisja (which also found its way into non Germanic languages). It’s unknown when the different spellings showed up, but it’s possible that it’s always been that way. Grammar and spelling are relatively new developments in terms of language. It’s not impossible to assume that two spellings remained even after the rules became solidified.

So…which spelling do you use?

PS. Greyhounds aren’t named for being grey hounds. Just an interesting bit I discovered.

Netstate’s page on Noah Webster.


  1. I actually prefer grey. I like the way it looks. I end up writing gray though because that's the way I was taught.

  2. I use grey -- but when a reader/critique partner corrects me, I go ahead and make the change.

  3. Hahaha! I always wondered what was the right way, but never actually bothered to look. So good to know! I was all about clicking on this post to find out! I like...hmm...gray grey grey gray...I honestly don't know which one I lean on when I'm writing! I guess it's just one of those words my hands know but I don't consciously make the decision...weird.

  4. I usually go with gray, since it's what I was taught.

  5. I love this post. I've always wondered the same.

  6. I flipflopped between both for a while, but then decided I needed to pick one. I ended up chosing grey, probably because I live in Australia.

    Very interesting post! I'm teaching myself French at the moment so learning about word origins is on the mind. :)

  7. I've wondered which was correct. Thanks for this. (As for which I use, I have no idea. I think I use both, depending on mood. I had no idea which one was right.)


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