I can call to mind several words with another correct spelling (colour, analogue, disc, barbeque) but I can't think of any with multiple correct spellings, i.e. three or more equally acceptable, semantically identical variants of the same word. Do any exist?

closed as off-topic by FumbleFingers, phenry, David Schwartz, anongoodnurse, user66974 Jun 25 '14 at 4:51

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    This question appears to be off-topic firstly because it's a "list" question, and secondly because the definition of "correct" spelling in such contexts is highly subjective. – FumbleFingers Jun 24 '14 at 23:32
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    I don't see it as a list question, more of a 'does x exist question'. I'd be content with at least one example of a word with multiple variants. If several major dictionaries listed such a word and stated that they are equally acceptable, that would be reasonably objective, no? At least by intersubjectivity. – Lou Jun 24 '14 at 23:35
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    Well, OED lists 69 different spellings under its entry for fairy. Not all of them current, obviously, but I did have to enter faerie in a crossword this afternoon, and I wouldn't have fallen off my perch if the answer had actually been fairie. – FumbleFingers Jun 24 '14 at 23:41
  • Wonderful. Which edition? Online or on paper? – Lou Jun 24 '14 at 23:43
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    @JosephNeathawk: So are stile and style, but that didn't help at all. Spelling is Not Official; sorry. – John Lawler Jun 25 '14 at 3:13

Here's a four-variant




Though some dictionaries only list 3:


or 2:


  • Accepted, though the comments have also been really useful. – Lou Jun 25 '14 at 8:46

There are ketchup, catsup, and catchup, all in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. And in fact, looking at Ngrams, all three spellings were reasonably common between 1910 and 1960, although catchup has become relatively rare today.

  • All come from Bahasa Melayu kecap /kə'tʃap/ 'sauce'. Foreign words in English spelling come out mutated into several species. – John Lawler Jun 25 '14 at 1:04

I would say no by definition.

Once you create a new group of letters with a meaning, it is a new word. So fairy - faerie might start out the same, but eventually can acquire shades of meaning and emphasis that differ. If you say that they are one word, you have to define that this kind of word drift can never happen. I don't think this is possible, so I'm a splitter.

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    Consider that alright, all right and allright are common spelling variations (not the greatest of example, but it illustrates my point) all three carry the same meaning. See also "sense of humor" vs. "sense of humour", both spellings are recognized and are considered correct, unlike the previous example, where "alright" is considered to be the standard form. Humor is not a new word by virtue of it missing an O, it's just a spelling difference. – Mari-Lou A Jun 25 '14 at 7:44

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