I'm a cook at a restaurant. My liberal arts education combined with a classical culinary education helps me figure out most stuff on my own, but occasionally I'm unsure. The grey area, fuzzy logic. These two words appear to refer to the same instrument. They are homonyms with almost no difference in spelling. Undoubtedly they have similar etymology. What I'm wondering is if the latter is the result of a spelling error in the early days of e-commerce, or it if was an organically derived natural word prior to our digital ways. Word history is fun, but this one has me stumped. I'd like to know a bit more, academically, should anyone have concrete and well-reasoned answers. Thank you!

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    Where did you see "cimitar" used? If it's a brand name, it might be deliberately not a real word to make it easier to trademark. (Googling, it looks like the top hits for "cimitar" are all related to the brand Dalstrong, so this could be what's going on)
    – The Photon
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 5:44

3 Answers 3


Variant spellings of scimitar in English go back to the middle of the seventeenth century at least. Edward Phillips, The New World of English Words (1656) notes three variant spellings:

A Cimiter, see Scymitar.


Scymitar, see Semitar.


Semitar, or Scymitar, a kind of a short Persian sword, being also much in use among the Turks.

John Bulloker, An English Expositor: Teaching the Interpretation of the Hardest Words, and Most Useful Terms of Art Used in Our Language, fourth edition (1667) has only one relevant entry:

Scymitar. A kinde of short sword used among the Turks and Persians.

But Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary, second edition (1724) expands the number to four:

CIMITER, a crooked Sword, used in Turkey, &c.


SCYMITAR, a crooked Persian Sword.


SIMITAR, SCIMITAR, {Scimitarra, Ital.} a sort of broad Sword.

Bailey's coverage is especially intriguing because he seems to invite readers to suppose that three different sword are under discussion: a crooked Turkish sword, a crooked Persian sword, and a broad Italian sword.

Thirty-two years later, Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language (1756) has these far less differentiated entries:

CIMETER, s. {cimitarra, Span.} A sort of sword, short and recurvated, Dryden.


SCIMITAR, n. s. {See CIMETER} A Short sword with a convex edge. [Citation from Shakespeare:] "I'll heat his blood with Greekish wine tonight, / Which with my scimitar I'll cool to-morrow."


SIMITAR, n. s. {See CIMETER} A crooked or falcated sword with a convex edge.

It isn't clear whether Johnson think that all three words refer to the same type of sword, but the definitions seem awfully similar.


It is impossible to tell whether some of the early dictionary writers who reported different spellings of scimitar thought the words referred to different types of swords or whether they thought these were simply variant spellings for the same word. Either way, dictionary acknowledgments of the variants go back more than 350 years.

People using the spelling cimitar in recent times may have done so in an attempt to distinguish the kitchen tool from the military weapon—but if so, the spelling probably ran into the same problem that its predecessor cimiter did, which is that people seeing the word are likely to treat it as an interchangeable variant of scimitar, and people hearing the word have no way of knowing how the speaker has would spell the word, given the chance.


OED lists 'cimitar' as a variant spelling found in the 1900s. One OED attestation in 1922, from the Nassau Literary Magazine, shows the 'cimitar' spelling.

Even earlier, the variant spelling is given as a recommended spelling in a 96-page 1906 "Circular" issued by the "Simplified Spelling Board", where it appears in "A List of Amended Spellings Recommended by the Philological Societies of England and America".

Sponsors of the "Simplified Spelling Board" included, among other notables, President Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, and Mark Twain. The front matter of the circular includes a "history of the reformed spelling movement to date, including the 300 words adopted for immediate use in the government departments, together with 3,500 amended spellings, rules and other valuable information."

An 1881 "Circular of Information" titled "The Spelling Reform", issued by the US Bureau of Education, also lists 'cimitar' as a recommended spelling of 'scimitar'. This provides evidence that the variant was not, as suggested by OED, confined to the 1900s.

An appearance (see last paragraph on page) in the 1879 Arabia Egypt India, by Isabel Burton illustrates that uses of 'cimitar' in the 1800s were not limited to late 1800s and early 1900s recommendations for spelling reform. Likewise also numerous uses of 'cimitar' in the 1864 edition of Frank Hilton, or, "The Queen's Own", by James Grant, an instance in the 1850 Sketches and Rambles by J.T. Headley, and an instance in the 1810 edition of John and William Langhorne's translation of Plutarch's Lives.

Attestations of the 'cimitar' spelling variant in the 1700s are more difficult to find, but that paucity may be a function of the corpus (Google Books) characteristics. Although one instance appears in a 1765[?] printing of Mars Stript of His Armour: or, The Army Displayed in all its True Colours, by Edward Ward (1667-1731), I found no others; however, as can be seen in the title of the work, English orthography was unsettled. It remains unsettled today.

Contemporary use of the 'cimitar' variant is definitely not "the result of a spelling error in the early days of e-commerce". The variant could be seen as "an organically derived natural word", I suppose, but examination of the etymology provided by OED, in concert with the overview of historical use given in the foregoing, provides a more detailed look at influences affecting the spelling variants.

Specifically, the origin of 'scimitar' as presented by OED is that the word is of "multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from French. Partly a borrowing from Italian." The French etymon given is cimeterre and the Italian is scimitarra.

OED also notes that the Spanish and Portugese cimitarra should be compared with the Italian and French etymons. The influence of Spanish and Portugese spelling may have played a role in sponsoring the 'cimitar' spelling variant's English use.


It's difficult to find a dictionary with an entry for cimitar.

In any case, scimitar is a borrowed word, so the spelling can vary - for example, I did find both scimiter and cimeter.

This source also refers to cimitar as a variant spelling.

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