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I'm referring to the term used to describe the vertical distance between a ship's keel and the waterline.

Which is the correct spelling: draught or draft? If either is correct, under which conditions would one be used over the other?

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Interestingly, the same words, with the same regional differences, are also used to describe those chilly little breezes that leak from around poorly sealed windows and doors, and which your mother warned you will cause you to catch cold. –  mickeyf Nov 14 '11 at 14:47
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Don't forget about the usage with beer. –  user362 Nov 14 '11 at 15:10
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@Al Everett: Which one? There's the draught horse used by the drayman to deliver the ale to the pub, and the draught of ale the pub then sells you to drink. –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '11 at 16:28
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up vote 18 down vote accepted

They're just alternative spellings, which overall occur about equally... enter image description here

Americans usually spell it draft - here's the chart for American-only usage... enter image description here

Brits usually use draught - here's their usage chart... enter image description here

EDIT - Apologies for including yet another chart, but even though they really are just alternative spellings, predominantly associated with the US/UK divide, I find this American-only usage chart for draft/draught of ale particularly interesting... enter image description here

I assume Americans see ale as an old-fashioned Britsh word, so they slip into "mock-archaic" spelling (similar to Ye Olde Tea Shoppe ). I'll refrain from adding another chart, but conversely even Brits prefer working draft over working draught, because this is a much more recent "set phrase" primarily associated with Americans.

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You should do the graphs separately for the American an British versions. I feel sorry for all the non-AmBrits. –  Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 14:47
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@Mitch: One day, NGrams will offer choices like "Australian only", though as of today I don't think even their US/UK division is particularly accurate. But it's good enough to prove how indebted US orthography is to Noah Webster! –  FumbleFingers Nov 14 '11 at 14:56
    
It's weird that the usage is so 'bouncy'. Looking at simply the stand-alone word draught/draft, it looks like 'draft' wins in British, too, but that doesn't accord with my experience ('draught' stands out to me as particularly British, never seen in the US). Is 'draft' used in contexts other than nautical in British writing? –  Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 15:03
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@Mitch although ultimately coming from the same word, the spellings both have distinct meanings in British English. See the note at the bottom of this: english.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/draft –  z7sg Ѫ Nov 14 '11 at 15:13
    
There's also the problem of 'dra[unvoiced labiodental fricative]t' distinguishing: pouring beer, a change to coolness in indoors air, a first version, and rounding up soldiers. –  Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 15:15
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My answer is draught horses and this is how it is spelled in the Australian language.

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