19

I have seen it both ways:

He is a veritable font of information.

He is a veritable fount of information.

The first is referenced by M-W's definition and seems to match the pronunciation I'm used to:

source, fountain (a font of information)

The second seems equally sensible given that 'fount' can be an abbreviation for 'fountain'.

An NGram shows that 'fount' outpaces 'font' in written usage (seemingly in contradiction with the dictionary), but both seem to be pretty widespread.

Are there any reasons to use one over the other, or are they really wholly interchangeable?

  • 1
    Pretty much the same; they're just variant spellings of the same word that have drifted a bit, like labor and labour. – John Lawler Dec 28 '12 at 22:37
  • 2
    @John Lawler: Granted, they're "the same" word. But unlike labour/labor, there's a difference in pronunciation. And to my mind, the font version has more mystic/religious connotations (a bit like cornucopia as opposed to abundance, perhaps). – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 23:16
  • 8
    As I said, they drifted. But they drifted different directions in different places, carrying different people on different voyages. – John Lawler Dec 29 '12 at 0:17
  • I have drunk from the font of others' wisdom and have been baptized in the font of their erudition. I write this as I sit at the soda fount-ain, delighting in the taste of a malted milkshake. I am still left in a quandary - not the Colorado mountain peak - when it comes to font vs. fount usage. But I do know the milkshake tastes good! – Geraldine Lowrey Feb 7 '18 at 16:21
10

This usage is something of a "stock phrase" with knowledge/wisdom. Historically, fount has always been more common, but as this NGram shows, font is rapidly catching up...

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I don't think there's any difference in meaning, or in UK/US spelling preferences. But personally, I've always thought fount here sounds a bit quaint/archaic - perhaps I'm just ahead of my time.

It's worth pointing out that OP's exact phrasing (with the very quaint/archaic use of veritable) simply reflects the fact that all variants are normally used somewhat facetiously.

  • 2
    Yes, since font is the spelling used for "typeface" everywhere, I suppose it is the natural choice nowadays, +1. – user19148 Dec 28 '12 at 23:09
  • 1
    @Carlo_R.: I hadn't even thought of that, but I suppose it could well be an influence. Nevertheless, I think the gradual rise of font was well underway long before most of us ever had much reason to think of font - typeface, so I doubt very much it's the whole story. – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 23:19
  • 5
    Comic Sans is certainly not a font of wisdom. – J.R. Dec 29 '12 at 2:35
  • 1
    @Lynn: Umm - really? In how many other contexts do Americans habitually use veritable in a "non-facetious" way? I mean the choice of that word is usually somewhat self-conscious/jocose, not that the statement including it is untrue or otherwise not to be taken seriously. – FumbleFingers Dec 29 '12 at 3:12
  • 1
    Presumably a 'font' is real object people know about while 'fount' is a more archaic/poetic term for a water source - so people are becoming more comfortable with 'font' – mgb Dec 29 '12 at 6:29
6

From The American Heritage Dictionary comes the following:

font n.
1. A basin for holding baptismal water in a church.
2. A receptacle for holy water; a stoup.
3. The oil reservoir in an oil-burning lamp.
4. An abundant source; a fount: She was a font of wisdom and good sense.

It seems, then, we have a case of potato-potahto. Either word—font or fount—is perfectly appropriate. I happen to prefer "font".

4

Are there any reasons to use one over the other, or are they really wholly interchangeable?

The spelling fount survives in poetic diction as a synonym for fountain, and in more general use as a figurative word for "source," as in "fount of wisdom." (Reference: "Handbook of Varieties of English," Kortmann)

So, according to Kortmann's book, it seems these word are not wholly interchangeable and you should use font for the ceremonial "baptismal font."

  • 1
    This is one of those cases where etymology and relative prevalence in other contexts doesn't really make any difference. It's just a stock phrase where both words are commonly used. – FumbleFingers Dec 28 '12 at 23:11
0

I grew up in the UK, where "fount" was always the normal usage in this phrase. "Font" in this context still makes me stop and think; in my British brain, a "font" is a typeface or a baptismal basin.

-2

It's definitely a fount of wisdom, taken from fountain. Fount is a convenient shortening of the word often used by poets to fit rhymes, and has since become in popular use. Definitely not font which has always been a baptismal vessel.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary lists the third definition of "font" as "fount n.1 Now only poet.". There are examples from 1611 on. – sumelic Feb 7 '18 at 16:23

protected by tchrist Feb 7 '18 at 16:24

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