26 of Noah Webster’s Spelling Changes That Didn’t Catch On

Arika Okrent
You won't beleev these spellings.
You won't beleev these spellings. / Justin Dodd (speech bubble); Cullen328, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 (Dictionary)
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Noah Webster had a lasting impact on language in the United States. Before publishing his An American Dictionary of the English Language, he produced a series of spelling books that dominated American classrooms for almost a century. He was a proponent of spelling reform, believing that more regular orthography would not only make learning easier, but more importantly, it would distinguish the American way from the British, “an object of vast political consequence” to a young nation. Some of his suggested reforms caught on and still mark a difference between American and British writing: He replaced “colour” with “color,” “centre” with “center,” “defence” with “defense,” “plough” with “plow,” “draught” with “draft,” and “gaol” with “jail.”

But many of Webster’s reforms went nowhere—including the 26 spellings listed here.

  1. Cloke: Cloak
  2. Soop: Soup
  3. Masheen: Machine
  4. Tung: Tongue
  5. Greef: Grief
  6. Dawter: Daughter
  7. Korus: Chorus
  8. Nightmar: Nightmare
  9. Turnep: Turnip
  10. Iland: Island
  11. Porpess: Porpoise
  12. Steddy: Steady
  13. Hainous: Heinous
  14. Thum: Thumb
  15. Gillotin: Guillotine
  16. Spunge: Sponge
  17. Ake: Ache
  18. Wimmin: Women
  19. Determin: Determine
  20. Giv: Give
  21. Bilt: Built
  22. Beleev: Believe
  23. Grotesk: Grotesque
  24. Stile: Style
  25. Neer: Near
  26. Sley: Sleigh

A version of this article ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2022.

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