Is the difference between flotation and floatation a US/UK difference or something else?

I think I did see floatation in some physics book.

  • +1 I never knew of the 'floatation' spelling, but find it all over Google.
    – JAM
    Commented Sep 30, 2012 at 2:58

3 Answers 3


I'd have to say that the difference was influenced by something else.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the French influenced the more widely used spelling flotation.

And according to the same root-source regarding floatation:

the older, more etymological, but less popular spelling of flotation

Several of these sources (will list below) all agree that floatation and flotation are variant spellings of one another.

M.Webster Variants of FLOTATION --- **flo·ta·tion** also **floa·ta·tion**

Collins Dictionary a variant spelling of _flotation_ --- flotation *or* floatation

And (my new favorite word coming up) according to this source, there is no specific difference between BE and AmE regarding to flotation/floatation confusion. I'd like to point out, his site has similar sources to back up his findings.

  • 3
    I had always thought "floatation" was not the proper spelling and was a mis-spelling by people who would write "pronounciation". Commented Sep 30, 2012 at 4:13
  • 1
    +1 Wish you had summarized your findings in a short para at the end.
    – Kris
    Commented Sep 30, 2012 at 8:12

I wasn’t aware of the floatation spelling, or that it was found in American English. The OED has only flotation, but with this note:

The spelling flotation is not etymologically justifiable, but is more common in use, probably because it disguises the hybrid formation, so that the word appears more conformable to the general analogy of scientific terms.

  • Thanks for the answer, but I need someone who has come across both to answer. Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 18:30
  • 3
    Um, the OED2 lists both spellings, and indeed lists the floatation spelling first. (But yes, has your note.)
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 18:35
  • In American English 'flotation' is very much more frequent than 'floatation', in the ratio 12:1 in 'American English from the Cambridge International Corpus' (Reference: P. Peters)
    – user19148
    Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 18:50
  • 2
    @tchrist: My reference was to the online OED. The Shorter OED (2002) also gives floatation, but as a variant spelling. It certainly seems to be the case that flotation ‘is in more common use’. The COCA has 298 records for it against 12 for floatation. The equivalent BNC figures are 266 and 6. Commented Sep 29, 2012 at 19:19

Summary: It's Scots, laddie.

I am a British Empire Antipodean, but well versed in the mother tongue, and long in the tooth to boot, but until now had never encountered "floatation" as a word.

Google NGrams show as below, with "floatation" appearing at about 1800.

A usage graph comparing "floatation" (blue) with "flotation" (red). The blue line isn't visible at all until a few tiny blips around 1850, a teeny-tiny little plateau just before 1900, and a very slight upward slope until 2000. The red line has a peak around 1580, then nothing until 1710, then a series of peaks until 1800, then an asymptotically increasing line peaking around 1925. For the remainder of the century, it drops back down to about half of that peak, with secondary peaks in 1950 and 1990 and a dip in 1975 (though it's still higher than even the 1580 aberration). With the exception of a tiny little crossover just before 1850, the red line far outstrips the blue line.

Further searching produced a result which surprised me. It's Scots, laddie. The term "floatation" is widely used in Scotland, as opposed to the UK in general, being much more common than "flotation". While this can be confirmed by searching the web for floatation and reading Scottish related entries, a good idea of what will be found is obtained by searching the web for

  • "floatation" related_term

  • flotation related_term

The quote marks around the 1st term tend to make at least Google offer fewer entries with suggested alternatives.

Some results for floatation and flotation with various related_terms are below. M = millions of hits. k = 1000's of hits.

e.g. "Australia 420 k / 10.9 M" = 420,000 hits for floatation and Australia, 2.29 million hits for Australia and flotation.

Very obviously this method has methodological deficiencies, but it is also demonstrably useful.

floatation / flotation.

All 3.69M / 10.9M
Australia 420 k / 2.29 M
England 266k / 2.23M
Scotland 2.01 M / 445 k
USA 689 k / 3.52 M
Scottish 2.38 M / 261 K
Scots 2.327 M / 659 k
NZ 252 k / 1.18 M
"South Africa" 181k / 994 k
Wales 117 k / 341 k
"pinyin" 37k / 206 k

"English" 600 k / 1.92 M
ie adding the quotes around "English" did not greatly affect the result.

One could go on :-).
But the two Scots related entries are about 4:1 and 9:1 in favour of floatation.
All others and overall result are strongly biased towards flotation.

An examination of some of the Scots related pages shows widespread use of "floatation" in contexts that would be foreign to most people reading this posting.


Russian 2.84 M / 864 k - A Scottish translator writer is suspected :-)

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