Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

For announcements/advertisements on pieces of paper, I have seen it referred to as "flyer" and "flier". Are half of the people using the incorrect spelling or are these two words interchangeable like "labor"/"labour"?

share|improve this question
    
They are just variant spellings; not like labo(u)r, which is a US vs. non-US difference, but simply variant spellings. Related: when does (and doesn’t) -y change to -i- before suffixes (see especially the fourth blockquote box). –  Janus Bahs Jacquet May 15 at 10:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As indicated by other comments and answers, flyer/flier isn't a US/UK difference like color/colour.

Both spellings have been around for centuries, and for most people, they mean the same. The usage charts for frequent flyer/flier and printed flyer/flier show no significant difference US/UK difference (flyer is 2-3 times more popular on both sides of the Atlantic, for both meanings).

Some authorities claim there is (or should be) a distinction. Note this from dailywritingtips.com...

Interestingly, two American authorities, Bryan A. Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, and the Associated Press Stylebook, recommend flier for all senses; however, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary allows that flyer is more common when referring to a leaflet, and popular usage bears this out.

Personally, I think that perspective is simply mistaken, as I hope my own usage charts show. What I do find interesting is that among similar forms, tryer/trier and cryer/crier are atypical, in that they've decisively settled on (or retained) the -ier version. Most others, such as fryer/frier and dryer/drier have moved (or are moving) more or less decisively towards -yer.

Thus the preferred orthography is currently unsettled, but flyer seems to be following the pattern whereby noun senses (typified by the plural forms dryers/driers) favour -yer, and comparative usages (such as is dryer/drier) favour -ier. It's enough for most writers to recognise and respect that emerging consensus - two different noun senses is just too fine a distinction to survive.

share|improve this answer
    
So "flier" would be correct for "more fly"? –  Peter Shor May 15 at 17:17
    
@Peter: Dunno about more "correct", but suppose we restricted ourselves to only those native speakers who think the two spellings (do/should) unambiguously distinguish the noun/comparative senses. I'd be prepared to place a sizeable bet at 50-50 odds that the majority of those people would go with flyer=noun, flier=comparative. –  FumbleFingers May 15 at 17:29
    
This is a good answer because it appeals to general rules and trends. However, flyer/flier seems to be an exception to the rule for two reasons: First, flyer has taken precedence as the spelling for a leaflet, as well as for an architectural feature called a "flying buttress" -- neither of which literally fly. This leaves flier as a distinct spelling for things that fly. Second, fly as an adjective is slang to begin with, and there appears to be no significant use of it in the comparative form. This leaves flier as an unambiguous spelling for things that fly. –  feetwet May 26 at 13:54
    
@feetwet: You presumably agree with Garner's presciptive style advice as mentioned above. But the actual evidence from the first NGram link in my answer clearly shows that flyer is overwhelmingly preferred for both noun senses (pamphlets and "things/people that fly"). The general trend is that -ier is increasingly being standardised on for comparative forms, but that doesn't really affect fly since we're so unlikely to use flier = more fly anyway. –  FumbleFingers May 26 at 14:18

Flier e is a variant of flyer and they have been both used for long:

Flyer also flier, mid-15c., "something that flies," agent noun of fly (v.1). Meaning "something that goes fast" is from 1795; that of "aviator" is from 1934. Meaning "speculative investment" is from 1846 (on the notion of a "flying leap"). Meaning "small handbill or fly-sheet" is from 1889, U.S. slang (originally especially of police bulletins), on notion of "made to be scattered broadcast." Meaning "aviator" is from World War I. Related: Fliers; flyers.

While labour vs labor refer to different spelling ( British vs American)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.