pastime n. An activity that occupies one's spare time pleasantly: Sailing is her favorite pastime. [TFD]

Etymonline says that it is from pass + time:

late 15c., passe tyme "recreation, diversion, amusement, sport," from pass (v.) + time (n.). Formed on model of Middle French passe-temps (15c.), from passe, imperative of passer "to pass" + temps "time."

So, why did one "s" drop (Did it drop? Maybe never dropped) or why not double "s"? (i.e. Why not "passtime"?) Is there any historical or orthographic reason?

Further details:

I think pastime is often confused with past time and passtime. I'm not sure if passtime is a word but I see a significant amount of usage in written works [in Google Books]. (Is it an incorrect usage in every case? Can it be a dialectal spelling?)

Pass time means to spend time doing something. [Even, pastime was used as a verb in the past.]

It gets even more complicated when there are noun forms of passtime and pass time with different meanings.

I see the usage of "passtime" as the amount of time passed in technical contexts. Also "pass time" is used in this sense in specific contexts. For example:

In road transport, the time that elapses between the moment when the leading vehicle of a column passes a given point and the moment when the last vehicle passes the same point. [TFD]

Note: I'm aware that English spelling has a lot of irregularities but we are here to discuss the finer details of the language. I have a good case with details and I believe there might be hints from the history.

For example, a similar question: Why is "gauge" spelled with a 'u'?

  • I can't think of any English word with a double 's' before a 't'. – user66974 Dec 10 '14 at 7:14
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    English spelling is frequently irregular since it developed by conventions over time. In technical usage, I frequently see elapsed time. – Elliott Frisch Dec 10 '14 at 8:30
  • Where do you see a significant amount of usage of passtime outside the meaning of time it takes to pass a vehicle? – pazzo Dec 15 '14 at 16:38
  • @CarSmack: Google Books. – 0.. Dec 15 '14 at 16:48
  • Oh, okay. Well a lot of those uses do refer to technical uses. There is also 'pass time' referring to the 'time of a (military) pass [permission to leave base]; most other uses are a combination of the verb pass with the direct object time. Similar to kill time or spend time. I thought you meant you saw a lot of spellings of pastime with two esses (passtime or pass(-)time). I didn't see any instances of passtime, but maybe I didn't look far enough. – pazzo Dec 15 '14 at 17:17

I think this has something to do with spellings such as

full, but hopeful, grateful and similar adjectives, and also fulfil BrE, AmE fulfill

till, but until

all, but almost, always and similar words.

Unfortunately I have never seen a spelling rule that covers the whole phenomenon and tries to give an explanation. It seems that two identical consonants are reduced to one consonant in compound words, just to reduce the effort of writing. But whether this is a general rule or a phenomenon found only in some compound words that is a problem I have never looked into more closely.

This is what I have found on the Internet



Agree, doesn't pay to apply conventional logic to a language that evolves through usage, influences, inclusions, and meanings that weaken, as well as having its own internal logic that allows exceptions and standalones. Especially English.

  • 1
    Is this an answer or a comment? – user66974 Dec 10 '14 at 8:45

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