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.

I have seen it both ways:

He is a veritable font of information.

He is a veritable fount of information.

The first is referenced by M-W's definition and seems to match the pronunciation I'm used to:

source, fountain (a font of information)

The second seems equally sensible given that 'fount' can be an abbreviation for 'fountain'.

An NGram shows that 'fount' outpaces 'font' in written usage (seemingly in contradiction with the dictionary), but both seem to be pretty widespread.

Are there any reasons to use one over the other, or are they really wholly interchangeable?

share|improve this question
1  
Pretty much the same; they're just variant spellings of the same word that have drifted a bit, like labor and labour. –  John Lawler Dec 28 '12 at 22:37
2  
@John Lawler: Granted, they're "the same" word. But unlike labour/labor, there's a difference in pronunciation. And to my mind, the font version has more mystic/religious connotations (a bit like cornucopia as opposed to abundance, perhaps). –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 23:16
7  
As I said, they drifted. But they drifted different directions in different places, carrying different people on different voyages. –  John Lawler Dec 29 '12 at 0:17
add comment

4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

This usage is something of a "stock phrase" with knowledge/wisdom. Historically, fount has always been more common, but as this NGram shows, font is rapidly catching up...

enter image description here

I don't think there's any difference in meaning, or in UK/US spelling preferences. But personally, I've always thought fount here sounds a bit quaint/archaic - perhaps I'm just ahead of my time.

It's worth pointing out that OP's exact phrasing (with the very quaint/archaic use of veritable) simply reflects the fact that all variants are normally used somewhat facetiously.

share|improve this answer
2  
Yes, since font is the spelling used for "typeface" everywhere, I suppose it is the natural choice nowadays, +1. –  user19148 Dec 28 '12 at 23:09
1  
@Carlo_R.: I hadn't even thought of that, but I suppose it could well be an influence. Nevertheless, I think the gradual rise of font was well underway long before most of us ever had much reason to think of font - typeface, so I doubt very much it's the whole story. –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 23:19
4  
Comic Sans is certainly not a font of wisdom. –  J.R. Dec 29 '12 at 2:35
1  
@Lynn: Umm - really? In how many other contexts do Americans habitually use veritable in a "non-facetious" way? I mean the choice of that word is usually somewhat self-conscious/jocose, not that the statement including it is untrue or otherwise not to be taken seriously. –  FumbleFingers Dec 29 '12 at 3:12
1  
Presumably a 'font' is real object people know about while 'fount' is a more archaic/poetic term for a water source - so people are becoming more comfortable with 'font' –  mgb Dec 29 '12 at 6:29
show 10 more comments

From The American Heritage Dictionary comes the following:

font n.
1. A basin for holding baptismal water in a church.
2. A receptacle for holy water; a stoup.
3. The oil reservoir in an oil-burning lamp.
4. An abundant source; a fount: She was a font of wisdom and good sense.

It seems, then, we have a case of potato-potahto. Either word—font or fount—is perfectly appropriate. I happen to prefer "font".

share|improve this answer
add comment

Are there any reasons to use one over the other, or are they really wholly interchangeable?

The spelling fount survives in poetic diction as a synonym for fountain, and in more general use as a figurative word for "source," as in "fount of wisdom." (Reference: "Handbook of Varieties of English," Kortmann)

So, according to Kortmann's book, it seems these word are not wholly interchangeable and you should use font for the ceremonial "baptismal font."

share|improve this answer
1  
This is one of those cases where etymology and relative prevalence in other contexts doesn't really make any difference. It's just a stock phrase where both words are commonly used. –  FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 23:11
add comment

I grew up in the UK, where "fount" was always the normal usage in this phrase. "Font" in this context still makes me stop and think; in my British brain, a "font" is a typeface or a baptismal basin.

share|improve this answer
add comment

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.