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For example,

Night -> Nite
Through -> Thru
The -> Da
Though -> Tho

Nite even appears in some dictionaries as having the same meaning as night.

What is it called when words are deliberately written incorrectly but the pronunciation and meaning are kept unchanged?

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In this case it is written to more closely correspond to the pronunciation. So I rather view it as a simplified spelling than as deliberately wrong. –  starblue Oct 24 '11 at 12:47
    
I'd call it silly... SCNR –  Raku Oct 24 '11 at 12:51
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If 'nite' appears in your dictionary, please burn it immediately. –  sml Oct 26 '11 at 2:49
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The OED describes nite as a colloquial form used ‘in advertising and commercial contexts’. I use it myself in informal writing. –  Barrie England Oct 15 '12 at 9:00
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While I appreciate that more examples would be welcome, I'm rolling back the bold edit (which was also flagged as too bold). Nite is still an informal way of spelling night even in the US. It also forms a major part of at least one answer. –  Andrew Leach Mar 12 at 13:53

10 Answers 10

up vote 10 down vote accepted
+50

Based on the example you've given, I think the most clear answer is:

Advertisement and Marketing.

Words like "nite" as in "Nick at Nite" or "thru" as in "Drive Thru", "tonite" as in "Tonite Only", even "donut" as in "Dunkin' Donuts", are all marketing and advertisement inventions--mostly of the American variety. While donut predates Dunkin' Donuts by about 100 years, most Americans who spell it without the -gh are purchasers of Dunkin' and other chains that have adopted the abbreviated spelling.

I remember reading in an Advertising textbook that the spelling choices in Nick at Nite were based on a desire for balance in the design of the logo: two four-letter words separated by "at", and the removal of the descender "g" to keep a clear visual line and give the two words a squared-off appearance:

enter image description here

I suppose there's a similar mentality in removing the descender "g" in thru, tonite, lite, et al.

The Chicago Tribune published this in 2011 about misspellings in advertisements:

"There's a lot of trickery involved in the way grammar is used in advertising," says Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, Chief Strategy Officer at Leo Burnett ad agency. "You're trying to differentiate yourself. You're trying to be part of the lexicon. You're trying to be part of popular culture."

And in the minds of consumers, Hahn-Griffiths says, flawed spelling doesn't equal a shoddy product.

"Look at La-Z-Boy," he says. "Everybody knows that's not the way you spell lazy, but it's one of the most powerful furniture companies there is. It's an attempt to connect with the vernacular and the way people speak."

A misspelled name works, he says, if it does one or more of the following:

• Helps with recall. "You want people to remember your name in an easy and anecdotal way. It's this cognitive dissonance thing that makes you remember it because it's just weird."

• Sets you apart. "Maybe you're doing something with your name to make people think you're better or different than other hair dressers, garages, cafés."

• Gets people talking. "At the end of the day you want to become part of the lexicon. It gets people talking about you, so you become part of the vernacular."

•Works as an onomatopoeia. "There's some kind of double entendre association based on the misspelling." (Onomatopoeias are those words that imitate the sound they represent: buzz, kerplunk, etc.)

Clearly, the effect of such misspellings is the stimulation that comes from the visual interruption of seeing common words in altered forms, which sometimes is doubly-impactful when uncommon letters like "x" as in xtrem sports and "z" as in Cheez Whiz are substituted. This stimulation triggers memory, which in turn triggers brand loyalty.


To give this type of misspelling a little more context, there were efforts in the early 20th century to simplify the spelling of English in the States. Andrew Carnegie founded the Simplified Spelling Board, which sought to simplify and shorten the spelling of many common words so children could memorize them more easily, and so typesetters could save a few cents spelling "wished" with a -t instead of an -ed, wisht. The New York Times, The Chicago Tribue, and Melvin Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System were all supporters of SSB. Before them, Benjamin Franklin and Noah Webster also supported spelling reform on the basis of simplification and phoneticization. With such strong support for spelling reform, it makes sense that the taboo surrounding misspelled words in big print media outlets lifted.

While the SSB disbanded because Carnegie believed that its spelling suggestions were too prescriptive, the rationale carried on in the scholarship of Advertisement and Marketing where manipulated spelling, as in the title of this book on advertising: "Spelling Manipulation and Present Day Advertising" (1923), was a common trope of the field. Today the reasons to misspell words in adverts go beyond logo designs. With the importance of google ad words, for instance, a company that can brand themselves with a misspelled name can purchase ad words on the cheap and can likely find open web addresses with greater ease.

So, while there are terms like manipulated spelling, which advertising scholars have used for nearly a century, and there are any number of these somewhat facetious terms:

Faux-urban misspelling: Using "z" in place of "s," "da" instead of "the," and "dogg" or "dawg" instead of "dog."

Xtreme misspelling: Using "x" is place of "ex," as in "Xtreme" or "Xtra."

Country misspelling: Using "k" in place of "c," as in "kountry" or "korner."

it is better to understand some of the motives of advertisement and marketing to give a more foundational understanding for why these spelling choices are made.

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The correct answer. In ad agencies and the like, this is sometimes just called "ad spelling". (So, you might hear some typographers or whatever saying "So the logo is SuperNite.." "..Night, ad spelling or normal spelling?") –  Joe Blow Mar 10 at 5:39
    
BTW I've noticed that Mehper's extraneous interests involve marketing: I'm betting this is almost certainly exactly what he means. –  Joe Blow Mar 11 at 16:45
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It's worth noting that in certain countries - say France - marketers do this very specifically to avoid the rules that say a translation (slug) must be provided for English words used in printed ads. –  Joe Blow Mar 11 at 16:49
    
You have a typo .. purveyors / purchasors –  Joe Blow Mar 11 at 16:50
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There's also legal trademark protection in using misspelled words. Someone named Nick who performs at night couldn't come along with his own show, "Nick at Nite" because Nickelodeon has the trademark. If they had "Nick at Night" then the second Nick could also do his nighttime show "at Night". –  Kevin Rubin Mar 11 at 20:50

A general term for intentionally altered spelling is sensational spelling, in which the writer misspells words for an intended effect.

Another, more specific term is cacography, which is misspelling intended for comic effect. It was often seen used to mock illiterate/uneducated people.

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I have never heard the word cacography before, but I now love it. +1 –  MBurke Mar 9 at 21:29
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This is just a made up term. The wikipedia page in question is broadly marked for deletion, and will almost certainly be deleted soon. There are no, zero, real references for "sensational spelling" as a term. (what's the word for that, when people sneak in a "wikpedia" page trying to promote a slang word they made up or a brand or whatever) –  Joe Blow Mar 10 at 9:45
    
@Joe I edited your comment to include the edit you had made to the question. I think it is a valid point, but should be a comment and not an edit. Please flag this comment for mod attention if you want to discuss it, or flag this as obsolete if you are OK with the change. –  Kit Z. Fox Mar 10 at 20:57

It can also be a form of an eye dialect:

The use of nonstandard spelling for speech to draw attention to an ironically standard pronunciation. The term was coined by George P. Krapp to refer to the literary technique of using nonstandard spelling that implies a pronunciation of the given word that is actually standard, such as wimmin for women; the spelling indicates that the character's speech overall is dialectal, foreign, or uneducated. This form of nonstandard spelling differs from others in that a difference in spelling does not indicate a difference in pronunciation of a word. That is, it is dialect to the eye rather than to the ear. It suggests that a character "would use a vulgar pronunciation if there were one" and "is at the level of ignorance where one misspells in this fashion, hence mispronounces as well.

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I don't think the OP's example is meant to suggest dialect or irony or vulgarity or any such judgment of the writer. It's merely an alternate, non-standard spelling. –  tylerharms Mar 10 at 19:59

It is called allegro speech.

The deliberate misspelling, respelling, or non-standard alternative spelling of words, usually with the purpose of conveying rapid or informal speech patterns.
[grammar.about.com]

This is also related to the very nature of English language (and most languages) where there is no exact one-to-one correspondence between language and writing. There hasn't been a universal systemic spelling reform in English language also, though there were some attempts. In the end, spellings are made by people and popular choices are eventually adopted by dictionaries . The internet and text messaging are allowing more people to influence spelling than ever before. Also, Britons tend to relate this to Americanism, as nite is originated in U.S. English.

It is explained as below in the book Linguistics for Everyone (by Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck):

Often words are misspelled--or respelled, as it's sometimes called when it is done intentionally--not only in informal email messages but in more public, 'edited' spaces. These respellings, such as in the following examples, also known as allegro speech, indicate informality.

gonna, dunno, wanna
nite, lite, thru

The spellings of these words are all in a state of transition with respect to their acceptability as standard spellings. At this time, most people view them as nonstandard but intentional spellings; thus they differ from simple misspellings. However, this usage is restricted mostly to informal writing or print situations. . . . The variations usually coexist for some time before one becomes dominant and the other drops out. For example, the use of nite remains fairly restricted right now; its use may increase over time, and eventually the spelling night could drop out of the language.

From a phonetics standpoint, the spelling change from night to nite is related to the silent digraph gh. The below excerpt explains the relationship between sound and graphic sign from a linguistic standpoint and includes our example. (from the book Historical and Comparative Linguistics By Raimo Anttila)

This imperfect match between sound and graphic sign makes the changes in either one independent of each other, just as in the linguistic sign, the lack of one-to-one correspondence between sound and meaning makes sound change independent of semantic change. Thus a change in spelling (e.g., through > thru, or night > nite) does not necessarily reflect a change in pronunciation directly. (But, of course, such spelling changes are often made possible by pronunciation changes somewhere in the history of language. Thus write and right faithfully record an Old English contrast between [wr] and [r], while right currently has a spirant [x] in some English dialects even though it was lost in Standard English in the fifteenth century.)

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Allegro rules, also known as fast speech rules, describe the regular phonologic changes that occur in connected speech under velocity. Their less talked about complement is speech operating under lento rules. I can see no connection between allegro rules and orthographic shortcuts like spelling through as *thru. –  tchrist Mar 9 at 1:57
    
@tchrist: I think allegro speech has an extended meaning because it is not only related to rapid speech but also related the spelling of the speech pattern and informal writing. Thus, the whole topic is related to phonemic orthography. However, "allegro rules" might be related to phonetics only as you mentioned. –  ermanen Mar 9 at 2:40
    
tchrist - quite. –  Joe Blow Mar 10 at 5:37

It is called 'phonetic' — it is spelt how it sounds (phonetics is the science of sound). Some of the common phonetic spellings come from the old world English such as GEdgar's contribution. In a lot of cases, I see bastardised versions of this phonetic spelling — which is OK if kept in context, but unprofessional if used indiscriminately.

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Yes, I agree. . –  Greg Lee Mar 6 at 21:39
    
"Nite" isn't phonetic. "Nait" would be the phonetic spelling of "night". –  curiousdannii Mar 6 at 23:11
    
Popular phonetix, let's say. The only thing close to actual phonetic transcription that most English speakers have any familiarity with is eye dialect spellings like Nite. Even if one is familiar with (*shudder*) Webster's pronunciation system, it's useless without sub- and superscripts, plus italics. –  John Lawler Mar 11 at 17:56

TV Tropes calls it Xtreme Kool Letterz.

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Xtreme Kool Letterz doesn't necessarily cover all cases. For example, I wouldn't call Night -> Nite an example of this. –  Nick2253 Mar 6 at 21:48

In her paper "Spelling-Manipulation and Present-Day Advertising," Louise Pound calls this phenomenon by several names:

  • spelling-manipulation
  • re-spellings
  • spelling-perversions

Pound theorizes that originally, a few advertisers used this to catch consumers' attention, as the incongruity of seeing "Nite Lite" or "EZ Walker" instead of the expected spelling would make them do a double-take and latch the product name to their memory. Eventually, many more advertisers jumped on the bandwagon, and now the practice is so common (This article lists a bunch of them) that people rarely think anything of it anymore.

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it is almost certainly the case that it was first done for legal reasons. you know, "nintee minut prints!" sort of thing (of course, they're not really ready in 90 minutes). –  Joe Blow Mar 11 at 16:42
    
I imagine it would also be easier to copyright names that were misspelled. You can't really copyright "Night Light" because it's such a common word, and it's more of a description of the product than a name. "Nite Lite," on the other hand, is clearly a brand name. –  Nicole Mar 11 at 17:15

Texting abbreviations are obviously the most commonly mis-spelt versions of many words but understood and pronounced correctly. eg: sis m8 go2 ny 2moro

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Do not assume that those will be understood and pronounced correctly. :( –  tchrist Mar 9 at 14:03
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pronouncing 'correctly' and 'unchanged' are different things. The point w.r.t. acronyms (TLAs, SMS etc) is that there is an implicit 'expanded' form and 'pronouncable' version, which cannot be done by everyone. So words are mis-spelt (shortened?) purposefully with the hope that it will be understood! –  Raghuraman R Mar 9 at 16:34

I don't think there is a single word answer. As you can see from this Venn Diagram, the point where the blue and red circles overlap (same meaning/same pronunciation/different spelling) there is no single word credited.

Venn Diagram

This is likely due to the fact that it happens very rarely.

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This in no way specifically addresses the deliberate, quirky, non-standard spellings specified by OP. And since at least six terms have been given as answers, this, pretty though it is, adds little if anything to those previous answers. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 11 at 15:06
    
outstanding answer. –  Joe Blow Mar 11 at 16:41
    
This is mainly to show what words it isn't, because I thought that there was a word (like homophone or homonym) that described what the OP was asking. So I thought it would be useful to debunk all of these options simultaneously, in case anyone else had the same issue. –  Mike.C.Ford Mar 13 at 14:45

Metagraphy [1]2

The rendering of letters of an alphabet of one language into the possible equivalents of another; transliteration.

Just unconfirmed (according to Wiktionary).

I knew what orthography was (the conventional spelling system of a language) and understood that ortho is the Greek etymological root for 'straight' (orthography meaning 'straight writing'). There is no direct opposite for ortho, but there are two slant opposites. Para and meta. Coupled with graphy (the Greek root for words/writing), I decided to look up these words.

paragraphy sounded strange. I looked it up and found that it meant something else entirely, so that left metagraphy.

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