I discovered that my natural (British English) spelling of "exorbitant" added an "h", and upon looking it up on oxforddictionaries.com discovered that it is a common mis-spelling.

Can you help me unpack why I would have thought that the non-obvious spelling was correct? Are there a number of other words that exhibit that pattern (wow, "exhibit" is probably such a word...)? Apparently it's not just me, given the Oxford citation.

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    Exhibit would be a case of the opposite being true. – Ash Jul 29 '16 at 4:02
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    Possible confusion with exhort and its relations (exhortation, exhortative, exhortatively, exhortatory, exhorter)? – Drew Jul 29 '16 at 4:06
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    Exorbitant ou exhorbitant ? the French appear to have the same problem which may have been passed on to the English language: They think the reason for the common mistake is the presence of of many terms in which the suffix ex is followed by the letter h: L’explication de cette erreur se trouve principalement dans le fait qu’il existe plusieurs mots prenant quant à eux un H : exhaler, exhausser, exhaustion, exhaustif, exhéréder, exhérédation, exhiber, exhibition, exhorter, exhortation, exhumer, exhumation. alorthographe.unblog.fr/2011/05/24/exorbitant-ou-exhorbitant – user66974 Jul 29 '16 at 5:08
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    The usage of exhorbitant in French is from the early 18th century books.google.com/ngrams/… as in English books.google.com/ngrams/…. There may have been a "contamination" of the wrong usage from French. – user66974 Jul 29 '16 at 5:21
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    @Josh61 I think you're on to something. I'm fluently bilingual and my English spelling here could have been influenced by the French (mis)-spelling! – Tom Auger Aug 5 '16 at 2:39

The answer to why it's such a commonly misspelled word is likely due to the fact that it's been being misspelled ever since its inception as a word.

etymonline shows it originating in the mid-15th century, but there are books that have the misspelled version dating all the way from the 16th century, such as in this French book from 1581:

Legende de Domp Claude de Guyse, abbé de Cluny: contenant ses faits et ...

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or from this Scottish book from 1585-1592, which has three instances of the misspelling, so you know it's not just a typo:

Scotland. Privy Council - 1585

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Google Books shows the misspelling thriving from the 18th century-on:

An interesting thing that can be picked up from the sources is that in the mid-18th century the misspelling made its appearance in many French texts, and an Ngram analysis of French documents confirms this:

Google Ngrams French

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Now is this a case of the British misspelling marking its influence on French soil, or was the misspelling French in origin all along? I doubt the latter, but maybe someone else can shed some light. French was the lingua franca during the 17th century so its possible.

There are various English words that derive from Latin words beginning with "exh-":

enter image description here

exhonorate is another common misspelling of exonerate, but that has a Latin root beginning with "exh", unlike "exorbitant" and "exonerate".


My guess after all this evidence is that the medieval Brits thought that "exorbitant's" Latin roots had an 'h' in them, which made it a common misspelling at the time, and that misspelling survived through the ages. Truly a misspelling for the ages.

  • @Ashwin Nair ~ much appreciated. I'd be nowhere without Google. It's like my second father. – user180089 Jul 29 '16 at 4:40

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