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I've been reading Gulliver's Travels(1726) and noticed almost all words that we commonly spell ending "-ic" are instead spelt "-ck" such as publick or politick.

Researching online I can't find any information about these spellings except that they are archaic or obsolete. These also don't seem to be the original spellings as they do not appear in Shakespeare.

Were these spellings popular in the 17/18th century? Was there a spelling reform which introduced them?

  • Are you sure that you're familiar with Shakespeare's works in their original spelling? The most easily accessible presentations of his works today are edited to have updated spelling. The works published during his era (which may not reflect his own personal spelling practices) do seem to contain some examples of ick(e) spellings: I found "publicke" in lines 945 and 1689 of this edition of Anthony and Cleopatra (Folio 1, 1623): internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/doc/Ant_F1/scene/2.2/index.html – herisson Jan 8 at 13:18
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    They don't appear in what version of Shakespeare's works? The plays are normally printed in modern spelling. – Kate Bunting Jan 8 at 13:19
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Apparently its usage was common till early 1800s.

-ic

In Middle English and after often spelled -ick, -ike, -ique. Variant forms in -ick (critick, ethick) were common in early Modern English and survived in English dictionaries into early 19c.

This spelling was supported by Johnson but opposed by Webster, who prevailed.

(Etymonline)

| improve this answer | |
  • Webster reduced spelling to an almost phonetic form. If a letter didn't add anything to the pronunciation, it was removed--and honour became honor. If a spelling didn't match a pronunciation, the spelling was changed--and civilised became civilized. The same holds true for publick(e) to public. – WordNerdHouston Jan 8 at 14:51
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    @WordNerdHouston It seems that that was not the only criterion Webster used: he retained the final k in e.g. bullock and hammock. – Rosie F Jan 8 at 17:11

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