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How has it come to be that we British have the pleasure of saying aeroplane, whereas the US Americans (and possibly others) are only left with airplane?

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3  
Don't we all mostly use plane these days? ;) –  Jimi Oke May 31 '11 at 0:58
2  
@JimiOke seems too plain. –  Cruncher Dec 16 '13 at 20:59
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Wikipedia defines the reason:

Aeroplane, originally a French loanword with a different meaning, is the [older spelling.][4] The oldest recorded uses of the spelling airplane are British.[4] According to the [OED,][5] "[a]irplane became the standard American term (replacing aeroplane) after this was adopted by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1916. Although A. Lloyd James recommended its adoption by the BBC in 1928, it has until recently been no more than an occasional form in British English." In the [British National Corpus,][6] aeroplane outnumbers airplane by more than 7:1 in the UK. The case is similar for the British [aerodrome][7] and American [airdrome,][8] although both of these terms are now obsolete. Aerodrome is used merely as a technical term in all of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The prefixes aero- and air- both mean air, with the first coming from the Ancient Greek word ἀήρ (āēr). Thus, the prefix appears in aeronautics, aerostatics, aerodynamics, aeronautical engineering, and so on, while the second occurs (invariably) in aircraft, airport, airliner, airmail etc. In Canada, airplane is more common than aeroplane, although aeroplane is not unknown, especially in parts of French Canada (where it is however used only in English – the French term is avion, and the French word aéroplane designates 19th-century flying machines)

[4][http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=aeroplane&searchmode=none]
[5][Oxford English Dictionary, airplane, draft revision March 2008; airplane is labeled "chiefly North American"]
[6][ British National Corpus. Retrieved 1 April 2008]
[7][Merriam-Webster online, aerodrome. Retrieved 1 April 2008.]
[8][Oxford English Dictionary, airdrome.]
[9][http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/aeroplane]

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1  
But you park your automobiles in garages - the French are still winning! –  mgb May 30 '11 at 16:41
    
there is no affinity between the word "automobiles" and "garages". That's why we don't drive "gamobiles" –  Thursagen May 30 '11 at 21:16
    
@Third idiot. In BE 'aerodrome' was the standard until after WWII, although it was always airfield for smaller strips. –  mgb May 30 '11 at 22:07
    
I realise this is down voted, but It seems to answer my question best. –  Matt Эллен May 31 '11 at 15:58
    
I don't know why it was downvoted. –  Colin Fine May 31 '11 at 16:37
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Airplane is a US simplification of aeroplane, aeroplane having come from the French word aéroplane. The simplification came about because of a combination of people not wanting to bother with the 'o' sound at the end of 'aero', and perhaps a genuine misunderstanding that the aero- prefix is intended. People have have suspected that, as the thing travels through the air, the prefix ought to be air- for airplane.

As to your aside; yes, I suspect you do prefer that pronunciation because it's the British one. :-)

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It's an interesting idea, but I find it more difficult to transition from air to plane than I do from aero to plane, so I don't see this a typical laziness issue. –  Matt Эллен May 30 '11 at 9:15
    
Perhaps so, Matt, but try saying it really quickly. You can see where quick-talking, corner-cutting American speech might lead to cutting out the "o" sound. It's the difference between a two-syllable or a 3-syllable word, which can be a significant difference when it comes to American dialect. –  codelegant May 30 '11 at 21:27
    
This appears to be personal speculation. –  Colin Fine May 31 '11 at 16:37
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Etymology online says

1907, from air (1) + plane; though the original references are British, the word caught on in Amer.Eng., where it largely superseded earlier aeroplane (1873, and still common in British Eng.; q.v.).

so I guess your real question is why "airplane" caught on better. It could be the a more common spelling, a simpler connection with "air", which is an English word as opposed to more complex connection to foreign "aero".

However, this is such a nice question to show some ngrams.
British English corpus: enter image description here American English corpus: enter image description here

There you can see that even in American English it started as a more common word, until replaced in 1920s when airplane overtook.

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But Americans still have Aerospace and Aerodynamics, probably because Airspace is whole other thing, and Airdynamics is too easily confused with air dynamics, plus it sounds stupid. –  Sam May 30 '11 at 13:08
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