To explore the psyche of a people, do not look at what they do–look at what they do wrong. Today, we introduce the Misspelling of the Year. A word that was looked up significantly more this year than the year before. A word with lots of different misspellings. A word in the news. The word: furlough.
In 2013, Dictionary.com saw tens of thousands of lookups of this word, often spelled without the ugh. Though the correct spelling is furlough, three variants ballooned in lookup volume: furlow was looked up 66 percent more in 2013 than it was in 2012, and furlo was looked up 60 percent more. We can’t calculate how many more times ferlow, which was in the top 10,000 words of 2013, was searched for because no one was searching for it in 2012.
The main reason folks were talking about furloughs was the October shutdown of the US government (sequester and sequestration searches also jumped 2.3 and 2.8 times relative to last year, but no one was misspelling those).
As for the misspellings. Well, it’s a rough road. The first uses in English were close to the Dutch: vorloffe and fore-loofe in the 1630s. You also get furloghs, furlows, and foreloffs in the early centuries of its use. Why on earth would we pronounce it “oh” but spell it “ough”? Cough cough. That’s tough. Though I have a few thoughts. Let’s step under this lovely bough. (It’s not as bad as it could be: hiccup was standardly spelled as hiccough for a few hundred years.) There are a lot of ways to say ‘g’, but we can’t go into all of them here.
Furlough wasn’t the only word that was giving folks trouble in 2013. In reviewing Dictionary.com’s misspellings of the year (I’d prefer to call them “nonstandard spellings” but the Spelling Despots among you would be at me with pitchphorks), three categories for types of misspellings emerged:
Just plain hard
Studying nonstandard spellings also suggests some words that need to exist. An argu(e)ment can be made that assertation is a misspelling of assertion, but I would like to think it means something else. Like when someone just goes on and on asserting stuff to point that it feels like they’re reading you a dissertation.
But the word that is the best word in the whole data set and most needs your use and definitions: indiscrepancy. Go get it, Internet.
(Want to learn more about the many pronunciations of -ough? Check out our slideshow here.)