3

Is there a word or short term for words that have multiple valid spellings that don't correspond to any differences in meaning or pronunciation? The different spellings can be described as "spelling variants", but I'm looking for a word to describe the words themselves. I don't consider the term "homophones" (or the more specific "heterographic homophones") to be applicable because I understand it to refer to words that have different meanings.

A noun would be ideal ("Ax(e) is a(n) __") but an adjective that can modify a noun like word would be OK too ("Ax(e) is a(n) __ word"). To be clear, in this sentence I am using ax(e) to refer to the word itself, not to either of its two spelling variants. The word ax(e) is not a "variant" (n.): it comprises the two variant spellings <ax> and <axe>. I guess ax(e) could be described as a "variant word", using the adjective definition of variant that means something like "exhibiting variation", but I don't like this very much because it seems too ambiguous or unclear to me. However, if somebody can post an answer showing that "variant word" is some kind of established term for words like ax(e), I would be grateful for that information.

I'm not looking for the word variant

The questions Terminology for pairs of words with the same meaning, similar or same pronunciation but different spelling and Is there a word to describe words that can be spelled different ways? both look similar to mine, but neither has any answers that fit my sentence. I want to emphasize again that variant doesn't work for my purposes because I'm not looking for a word to describe the pair of spelling variants; I want a word to describe the single word corresponding to the multiple spelling variants.

If no such word exists, what is a good phrase for this?

I realize that such a word might not exist (as Pitarou's answer to the first linked question suggests); in that case, I'd be interested in hearing suggestions for a good multi-word term. The best I was able to come up with was "words with spelling variants not associated with different meanings or different pronunciations", which is pretty long.

  • 1
    Some spellings have different orthography. This post and this post may throw some light. – Ubi hatt Aug 19 '18 at 7:05
  • 1
    I think you definitely need to distinguish between words that are different in AE and BE (such as gray vs grey) and words that can be spelled differently within one language. – Mr Lister Aug 19 '18 at 7:27
  • 1
    @sumelic Some dictionaries say "US spelling of grey" for "gray". – Mr Lister Aug 19 '18 at 7:37
  • 1
    You're looking at this synchronically, which doesn't much work. Diachronically, all words have had multiple spellings. Far more still do than most people realize because of our consensually constructed concord. Per Mark Twain: “I never had any large respect for good spelling. That is my feeling yet. Before the spelling-book came with its arbitrary forms, men unconsciously revealed shades of their characters and also added enlightening shades of expression to what they wrote by their spelling, and so it is possible that the spelling-book has been a doubtful benevolence to us.” :) – tchrist Aug 19 '18 at 12:46
  • 2
    @user070221: As I said in the first sentence, either a word or a short term is fine. (I have also used the tag "phrase-requests" as well as SWR.) – sumelic Aug 19 '18 at 14:33
2

There is no word for this. You could coin "synograph" and see if it takes off, but there isn't a single word for it.

"Words with more than one spelling" or "words with variant spellings" (or "spelling variants") would be the clearest.

Colour and color are an example of regional variation.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.