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My nine year old son fought hard on this and is taking a stand on spelling bluish as blueish. I'm certain his teacher will mark it as a spelling error in his writing... Several dictionaries have indicated both spellings are acceptable. A character in his story says

What is that blueish white piece of ice floating in the freezing cold Antarctic waters?

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Why are they both correct? Not sure how this can actually be answered. –  Kosmonaut Mar 31 '11 at 19:44
    
Cite a dictionary entry. Case closed? –  Ankur Banerjee Mar 31 '11 at 20:17
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I prefer blueish because both variants are so uncommon that it's best to keep the "blue" obvious. Perhaps some might think that bluish is a non-English, one-syllable word pronounced "blweesh" like the beginning of "Guido." Roses are red. Violets are blueish. If it wasn't for Jesus, The pope might be Jewish. –  user45565 Jun 6 '13 at 12:59

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Both the NOAD and the OED define blueish simply as "spelling variant of bluish."

Looking for both the words in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, there are 7 sentences containing blueish and 559 sentences containing bluish; for the British National Corpus, the numbers of the sentences are respectively 4 and 55.

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I know Google results aren't most people's idea of a corpus, but they certainly show a far more equal distribution than the above figures. –  FumbleFingers Mar 31 '11 at 20:30

I don't think it's correct to say that both are correct spellings. After looking through N-gram data, and querying the venerable Fowler & Crystal's A dictionary of modern English usage, I find that bluish is clearly the preferred form.

Here's what Fowler & Crystal have to say:

The only satisfactory rule, exceptions to which are very few, is this: If the suffix begins with a consonant, the mute e is retained; if the suffix begins with a vowel, the mute e is dropped. Applying this [ ], we get (with the wrong results in italics, as a basis for exceptions): stalish; loving; milage; livable; stirving; excitable; timous; movable; likely; dotard; judgement; hinging; singing; gaugable; laughable, noticeable; mousy; changing; hiing; gluy; duely; bluish; wholely.

Another grammar book, A Survey of English spelling by a Edward Carney, explains the reasoning behind the rule:

The {-e} has to be kept when it is a marker of the pronunciation of the previous consonant as in gaugeable, manageable, noticeable, traceable. A spelling *{noticable} would invite {c} = /k/ before the as in practicable. So, singeing with /ndʒ/ is kept different from singing with /ŋ/.

Thus, the implication is that as there would be no ambiguity between the pronunciations of blueish and bluish, the preferred spelling is the latter.

Here are the Google n-grams for usage; first for American English:

Google Ngram1

Next, British English:

Google N-grambluish and blueish for British English

It seemed that blueish did seem to enjoy some popularity as the preferred form for some years in both America and Britain; peculiarly, between the years of 1786 - 1792 in Britain, and in 1788 - 1792 in America, Google Books shows that blueish enjoyed the advantage, being particularly applied to describe the color of dyes and minerals. (Here are some citations from 1788 - 1791.) The nascent field of chemistry seems to have preferred the odd spelling for some reason or the other. But as you can see, despite that brief respite, since then bluish has reassumed its dominant position.

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If you do an Ngram including blueifh and bluifh you catch the use of the long s pre-1820s that is often read as f by Ngram. It tells a more dramatic story. –  Callithumpian Mar 31 '11 at 22:01

It looks like blueish is an outdated spelling so I would advise him to spell it the same way as everyone else. It's surely not worth the trouble is it?

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I'm not convinced there's a strong case for saying blueish is outdated or to be avoided for some other reason. It's just the less common of two variants, but personally I don't really have a preference.

I think an even more finally-balanced example is clueing / cluing, which occurs frequently in crossword-related writing. In that particular case I slightly favour including the e, though I certainly wouldn't take issue with it either way.

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Other answers are showing evidence and references for their points. Can you find something showing blueish is still in common use? (I think you referred to a Google result in a comment elsewhere.) –  MrHen Mar 31 '11 at 20:36
    
Point taken MrHen. I don't cite references as often as I could or should. But I wasn't really concerned with the actual occurence ratios - more with the question of whether it's actually wrong to use the less common one in cases like this. Plus as I'm sure you know, it's easy to find plenty of grammarians championing the short form. But lots of people persist in using the longer one even if they don't actively justify it. –  FumbleFingers Mar 31 '11 at 23:20
    
As to the detail here, if I Google bluish I appear to get 7.8M hits, as against 1.2M for blueish. But I think Google is doing something odd here - perhaps because it wants to return results for both forms at once. Sometimes Google says there are only 5.3M hits for bluish, which I suspect is the real value for just that form. –  FumbleFingers Mar 31 '11 at 23:25

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