Does anyone know a reason why British English retains the -amme ending for programme but not for diagram? They both have French origins.


... Spelling programme, established in Britain, is from French in modern use and began to be used early 19c., originally especially in the "playbill" sense. Program music attested from 1877.


1610s, from French diagramme ... The verb is 1840, from the noun.

  • 4
    Two hundred years. We Anglophones are sometimes very suspicious of foreigners and take a while to accept them. :) Commented May 12, 2013 at 22:41
  • @StoneyB You're probably right!
    – Mynamite
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 22:43
  • It’s so it matches up with both other -amme words in English that can still end that way: épigramme and oriflamme. Or wait, those were both French words too, weren’t they? Probably time we fixed them, too. Certainly I would never spell it any other way than epigram these days.
    – tchrist
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 0:11
  • 3
    We use program in BrE, but only in relation to computing (presumably reimported from America).
    – DavidR
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 8:59
  • @DavidR it's mostly an American import (comparably, quite a few hackers this side of the pond are used to thinking of color as meaning "relating to colour in a computing context" because it's the word that tends to be used within code) with the added advantage of concision in a context where you might be using it within a program itself, and every byte counted.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented May 31, 2013 at 8:58

1 Answer 1


The form diagramme was found in English. When it was first borrowed into English from French, this was done with people familiar with the French (obviously) and they used it as such.

It is little surprise to find Webster's 1828 dictionary using diagram (and for that matter, epigram rather than epigramme).

Interestingly for oriflamme he has not oriflam but oriflamb, introducing a different silent letter.

This does not mean that Webster was the innovator here, though he might have been: He made some innovations, but also leaned to one side or the other of current differences in spelling.

Now, it's often said that Webster's views on spelling are why some American spellings differ from the British spelling of the same word, but this is only partly true: Some of his spellings were (eventually) adopted throughout the English-speaking world, some were rejected in America, and of those cases where the spelling differs some have nothing to do with him (the rise of -ise over -ize among the British for example).

I can't be conclusive, but I'm going to suggest that Webster had a role either in the shorter spelling or at least in its becoming the more more popular, and programme is an example where his spelling didn't take hold in Britain, while diagram is an example where it did.

  • Interesting, perhaps my question should have been: why did AmEng lose the -amme endings sooner then BrEng? Could it be that those who emigrated from Britain were generally the poorer classes, less likely to know French, and therefore spelled the words phonetically?
    – Mynamite
    Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 0:55
  • 1
    @Mynamite Webster had a lot to do with that, his dictionary highly favoured more phonetically straightforward versions of words. As said, he influenced spelling throughout the English-speaking world, but had a stronger influnece in the US, since he was American and of strongly patriotic views as far as the US breaking its historical ties to Britain went.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jun 4, 2013 at 9:43
  • Fascinating... @JonHanna, by "the rise of -ise over -ize among the British for example", do you mean to say that the -ize suffix preceded the -ise suffix, rather than the other way around? Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 23:06
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    @SarahofGaia both were around from the days when spelling was a lot more varied, but the -ize form was more common, which is one of the reasons the OED still uses it. The -ise form became more popular during one of the periods when there was a fashion for French things, which is something the British do every few decades.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 23:39
  • 1
    @SarahofGaia IIRC, the rise of -ise happened after the Napoleonic Wars ended, and the more monied British could go back to holidaying in France and copying their fashions, rather than hating the French as sworn enemies, which the British also do every few decades.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 23:52

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