I just discovered the verb relic, meaning “to make something look worn” and used as far as I can tell only about guitars. (Examples: 1 2 3 …) I was surprised to see that its participles are pretty consistently spelled relicing and reliced, not *relicking and *relicked like other verbs ending in -ic (mimic → mimicking, traffic → trafficking, etc.). No matter what general rules might tell us, for this particular verb, it is clear that putting hair pests back onto a guitar is a thing (hundreds of independent hits) whereas applying one's tongue again isn't (only 7 hits, all of them using relicing as well).

Are relicing and reliced consistently pronounced re-lick-ing/'d as the formation would suggest and not re-lice-ing/'d as the spelling would suggest?

How did this spelling come about? Did the verb forms spring from a specific source or did they evolve “naturally”?

Are there other recent verb formations (I believe the verbing of relic dates from the electric guitar era) that are spelled this way, or is this an isolated case?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Jan 4, 2015 at 4:12
  • I have seen "relicing" regarding guitars also mean "destroy them". I think it might be a sarcastic comment, though.
    – Rob Conger
    Oct 19, 2018 at 21:37
  • In OED, we find that the word relicked is the past tense of relick, meaning "to lick again". And no listing of reliced at all.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 19, 2018 at 21:41

2 Answers 2


I don't know the explanation for your finding that relicing is used much more than relicking, so here is a partial answer to your other question:

Are there other recent verb formations (I believe the verbing of relic dates from the electric guitar era) that are spelled this way, or is this an isolated case?

The use of <cing> pronounced /kıŋ/ in "relicing" is not a completely isolated case.

  • arcing. This spelling pattern also shows up in the word "arcing", the -ing-form of the verb arc. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates that arc has been used as a verb at least since 1893.

  • syncing. As noted in the answers to the related question "Synced" or "synched", the verb sync also has <ced> and <cing> spellings. It has a variant spelling synch.

  • talcing. The only spelling given by Oxford Dictionaries. Collins lists talcking and talcked alongside talcing and talced, but the -ck- forms for this verb are uncommon enough to not show up on the Google NGram Viewer, and Garner's Modern English Usage specifically says "talc [...] anomalously makes talced and talcing, not *talcked and *talcking." The OED's first citation for the verb talc is from 1888, and provides an example of the -ced spelling: "Engineer LXVI. 334 A glass plate is first cleaned, talced, and collodionized."

  • Interesting. It does seem that there is a trend of moving from -cking to -cing, with “arc(k)ing” being from the transition period and “syncing” and “relicing” being from after the transition period. Oct 20, 2018 at 7:05

The Rule:

Change final -c to -ck- before certain inflections

As explained in this answer, the OED says regarding the letter c that:

Hence, in modern English, C has

  • (1) the ‘hard’ sound [k] before a, o, u, before a consonant (except h), and when final, as in cab, cot, cut, claw, crow, acme, cycle, sac, tic, epic;

  • (2) before e, i, y, it has the ‘soft’ sound [s]. In all words from Old English or Old French, final c is avoided: the [k] sound being written k or ck, as in beak, meek, oak, book, bark, balk, bank, pack, peck, pick, rock. This is probably due to the claims of derivatives like meeker, oaken, barking, rocky, where c could not be used. Final c however is written in modern words from Latin, Greek, or other languages, and (of late) in the ending ‑ic, as in sac, tic, epic, critic, music, picnic. In the rare cases in which this c is followed in inflexion by e or i, it is necessary to change it to ck, as in physicking, mimicking, frolicking, trafficker, picnicker. When the [s] sound is final, it must be written ‑ce, as in trace, ice, thrice, and this final e must be retained in composition before a, o, u, as in trace-able, peace-able.

These “sound and spelling” rules for inflections and derivations of words ending in ‑c and in ‑ce are real rules that apply generally to all such forms. Just as we must write peaceable not *peacable, so too must we write relicking not *relicing — at least when we don’t mean to relouse someone. :)

So this rule gives us words like mosaicked, colicky, havocker, picnicky, plasticky, panicking, picnicking, panicky, magicked, colicking, picnicked, bivouacking, colicked, mimicked, frolicked, picnicker, demosaicked, garlicky, mimicker, havocking, bivouacked, demosaicker, havocked, panicked, mimicking, frolicking, demosaicking.

However, not everyone is particularly solid on the rule that words ending in ‑c must first take an extra ‑k‑ before adding ‑ed, ‑y, or ‑ing to them. In today’s world of self-publishing that never goes through a proper editorial process, nor often enough even a proper proofread, countless erroneous spellings crop up, such as *mosaiced for mosaicked. And although the OED does indeed give published citations for both spellings, it does not actually sanction the one without the ‑k‑ as an admissible alternate: it just documents that people have sometimes spelled it without the ‑k‑ that the OED says is obligatory in such cases.

This is what has happened with relicky, relicked, relicking: people who have never learned the actual rule are making spelling mistakes that never get corrected to their proper spelling.

In Publication

However, in actual curated works, such spelling errors are far less common, especially in older works where typesetting was dear and corrections dearer. When the barrier to entry is high, so too the standards. But when there is no barrier to entry and no proofreader worthy of the name, mistakes are made.

Here, though, are curated examples where mistakes were not made.

Published Citations for Relicky

Published examples of relicky aren’t all that common, but neither are the especially hard to find.

From Forest and Stream:

I had a stock saddle and a dealer in more or less “relicky” relics supplied me with a pair of canvas saddle bags that once were the property of Uncle Sam.

From Boys' Life:

They had said the old tug was relicky, a has-been.

And again from the next month of Boys' Life:

There’s nothing relicky about my boilers and engines! They can pull with the best of ’em.

Or here from The New Yorker:

Did I mention that now when I tell cab-drivers my right age they say, ‘God bless you’? It gives you a very relicky feeling. You’re supposed to have profound wisdom and a philosophy of life.

Published Citations for Relicked

One can find published examples of the proper spelling relicked, such as mention of relicked bones from Britannia Antiquissima, Or, A Key to the Philology of History:

. . . according to the gorgeous fertility of the imaginations of the exorcists, and averring that the apis, ibis, serpents, goats, relicked bones, pictures, or garments of this or that animal or being . . .

Here is a use of relicked using the second sort of -ed suffix, the one used to make adjectives from nouns, not the one to make past-tense forms from verbs. It’s from A Suit of Four by Arnold Leslie Lazarus:

Twenty gravel miles yet by map — and rode that relicked land out keen edged as its air ...

A verbal use of relicked is found — wholly unsurprisingly — in Relics:

As he and his wife relicked throughout Arkansas and Missouri while on vacation they stopped every time they saw an old wagon and tried to dicker with the owner for whatever good parts the wagon contained.

The word relicked appears from time to time in verse, such as in the Collected Poems of William Hull:

no monstrance holds same love in relicked gold:
love does not hold its stay: let gold be sound,
it will descend to brass, to lead through old
perverting alchemist, thin-lipped and bold.

Other examples in verse are easy to find.

Published Citations for Relicking

As for relicking as a participle or gerund, many published examples exist.

In The Sebago Lakes Region: A Brief History, author Red Allen notes that:

Relicking” even became a verb, meaning to search for Indian relics.

That was published in 2013, but it is hardly a new use, for way back in 1941 the National Recreation Association published a chapter in their Recreation with the title:

Have You Tried “Relicking”?

Other published citations for the spelling relicking that mean the antique version not the licking version include [1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], and [7].

But what about guitars?

Lest one mistakenly think that these many instances of relicking are somehow a different word from the one used in the context of making something like a guitar look like a relic, from 2012 we have this clear example from Dave Hunter’s The Fender Telecaster: The Life and Times of the Electric Guitar That Changed the World:

In addition to natural distress of the sort that would make the Fender Custom Shop’s relicking team drool with envy, Nancy displays Buchanan’s name crudely etched into its back at the bass-side upper bout, and three characteristic friction marks behind the bridge where screwdrivers of old were used to adjust the brass saddles.

There can be no question that that citation uses the sense of relicking meaning “antiquing” something, not the one meaning to give something a new lick. And it is itself no relic, either, having seen publication in 2012.

Miriads of Mispelled Occurances [sic]

You can always find virtually infinite misspellings. That doesn’t make them right. Consider for example:

Those are much commoner words than the ‑ck‑ words, but nonetheless that’s a lot of them to be considered wrong. Millions and millions. Surely more than forty million instances of people spelling separate as seperate must finally be enough to make the second one count as correct, right?

No. That’s exactly the wrong conclusion. The right conclusion is that a lot of people don’t know how to spell. Don’t let anyone tell you that those are right, because they aren’t. It doesn’t matter how many cases you can find of people making spelling mistakes.

Now let us consider the many errors people make in spelling ‑ck‑ words:

These are smaller in magnitude, but they are all the same class of error. And error they remain, for the second set is no more correct than the first set.

There is no number of incorrect answers that add up to a right answer.


Curated works show all three of relicky, relicked, relicking spelled as perfect analogues of picnicky, picnicked, picnicking.

Non-curated works like random Internet jabber, self-published works, and periodicals not especially well-known for accuracy in English orthography often contain errors in spelling.

At times these misspellings can come to be repeated in a particular field so often that readers may become inured to the error and therefore no longer able to judge right from wrong. A good example of this is how often the erroneous demosaiced image is used in Internet jabber instead of the correctly spelled demosaicked image.

This is what has occurred here with relicky, relicked, relicking. People who didn’t understand the “‑c > ‑ck‑” rule (and had no competent proofreader) typed spelling errors, and some other people got used to seeing these errors.

There can be no answer to “why” the people who made that error did so. We might speculate about cognitive interference with re-licing being less strong than that of re-licking, but in the end, no one can say. It’s like recreation meaning both a new creation and also a pleasant diversion: some words have more than one completely different meaning.

  • 4
    This is a nice and impressively documented answer, but I'm afraid it misses the point. Only the last two paragraphs are relevant, and they are lacking references. Whence do you conclude that guitar relicers, who uniformly eschew a K (0 hits for "guitar relicker"), are “unable to judge right from wrong”? Dec 29, 2014 at 17:30
  • 2
    @Gilles I don’t see how they aren’t relevant: it’s the same word. Furthermore, the final Fender Telecaster reference is precisely what you are looking for as far as context goes, is it not? Do you really want me to pull out comparative statistics on misspellings of commonly misspelled words in Internet jabber like Facebook and Twitter and cell phone txtsp3k? How would that help anything? I don’t see how being an expert on relicking guitars should make one an authority on English spelling.
    – tchrist
    Dec 29, 2014 at 17:32
  • 3
    If the K-less spelling is purely a sign of ignorance, why does it constitute an overwhelming majority of the usage, and not about half (which is what it would be if each randomly decided to include a K or not)? The K-less spelling is shorter, granted, but does our experience with other words justify this explanation? How much of an outlier is guitar relicing in terms of commonality of the “wrong” spelling? Does it come from a single origin (which would explain the uniformity of the spelling)? Dec 29, 2014 at 17:39
  • 1
    Just because there are exactly two possibilities regarding whether a letter is present or absent does not imply that we should expect to find these in equal distribution: tomorrow you shall either be alive or dead, but there is not a 50% chance of each. The 242,000 Google results for picnicing seem to prove that random Internet jabberers don’t have a firm command of English spelling when it comes to this rule. That doesn’t mean they are right.
    – tchrist
    Dec 29, 2014 at 17:46
  • 1
    Thank you. // I'm not so descriptivist that I accept just any change as being for the good or even not worth standing against (as you well know from the neologisms / productiveness debate). And I think the 'add a k' recommendation comes as close to a rule as we get in English. We're probably all at different places along the prescriptivist - descriptivist continuum. Perhaps different places for different usages. Dec 30, 2014 at 15:14

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