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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Don't make this common spelling mistake

Today I saw this surprising spelling mistake in the newspaper:
"Research shows owners who spoil their pets do not complain about behaviour problems more than ridged ones".
After puzzling a bit over what kind of a ridge the pet owners might have, I realized that the writer meant "rigid".
This made me think about a much more common spelling mistake; "priviledge(d)" for "privilege(d)".
How can you remember not to put a "d" in these words?
They both come from French, so if you remember that the consonant combo "dg" does not exist in French, that may help you. But only, of course, if you know French!
"Rigid" comes from the same Latin word meaning "be stiff" that gave us "rigor" (as in "rigor mortis") and "rigour" (strictness), and as you see, they have no "d". Perhaps a good mnemonic for "rigid" would be "oil rigs are rigid" -- we certainly hope they are!
"Privilege" comes from two Latin words: privus (private) and legis (law). A privilege is a "private law" -- one that applies to an individual only. Legis also turns up in "legislature" and "legislation" etc., which may help you, but only if you don't also spell those words with a "d"!
Personally, whenever I go to my ballet class or ride my bicycle or go for a walk, I think how privileged I am to have legs; I certainly never think it a privilege to have ledges!

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  1. My wife met you at the ASI in May in Minneapolis. I followed the link in the email you sent to her yesterday. I have your book. I will make a point of following your blog.

  2. Welcome to the Wordlady blog, Dave!

  3. I wonder if some spelling mistakes are caused by people relying on "Spell Check" on the computer. Yesterday I saw the word taught instead of taut.
    Anna Bloom

  4. Well, they aren't caused by the spellchecker; the spellchecker fails to catch them.

  5. Priveledge is an obsolete form of privilege; that does not mean that priveledge is incorrect.

  6. If you look at all the possible permutations and combinations of this (or any) word over the history of English, you discover dozens of now obsolete spellings. But they are obsolete, and we accept standardized spelling now (since about the late 18th century), so I don't think it is exaggerating to call a now obsolete spelling "incorrect".

  7. just for fun (!), here are all the OED's recorded spellings for this word: α. OE privilegia (plural), OE (19– hist.) privilegium, OE–eME priuilegium, eME priuileian (prob. transmission error).

    β. ME preuylegie, ME priuilegie, ME priuylegie, ME privilegie, ME privylegie, ME privylegii, ME pryvelegie.

    γ. ME preuelage, ME preuelege, ME preuilage, ME preuylage, ME prevalege, ME prevelage, ME prevelege, ME priuelage, ME priueliche, ME priueyleg, ME priuilag, ME priuilage, ME priuileg, ME priuilegge, ME priuylage, ME priuylege, ME privalege, ME privelage, ME privelegge, ME privilegge, ME privilledge, ME pryuelege, ME pryvalege, ME pryvelege, ME pryvylage, ME pryvylege, ME pryvylegge, ME–15 preuilege, ME–15 preuylege, ME–15 privylege, ME–15 pryuylege, ME–15 pryvilege, ME–15 17 previlege, ME–16 priuelege, ME–16 priuilege, ME–17 privelege, ME– privilege, 15 preuileadg, 15 previleage, 15 previleidge, 15 priuiledg, 15 privelidge, 15 pryviledge, 15–16 preuiledge, 15–16 priueledge, 15–16 priuiledge, 15–17 priviledg, 15–18 priviledge, 16 preveledge, 16 previledge, 16 priuilidge, 16 priuyledge, 16 priveledg, 16 privileg, 16 privilidg, 16 pryvilidge, 16 (17 N. Amer.) privilidge, 16–17 privilige, 16–17 (18 rare) priveledge; Sc. pre-17 praeuilidge, pre-17 preiveleidge, pre-17 preivilege, pre-17 preuelege, pre-17 preuilage, pre-17 preuilaige, pre-17 preuilege, pre-17 preuiliege, pre-17 preuillege, pre-17 prevelache, pre-17 prevelage, pre-17 prevelege, pre-17 preveleig, pre-17 previeleige, pre-17 previlaige, pre-17 previledge, pre-17 previleg, pre-17 prevylege, pre-17 prewalage, pre-17 preweledge, pre-17 preweleg, pre-17 prewelege, pre-17 prewiledge, pre-17 prewilege, pre-17 prewileig, pre-17 prewillege, pre-17 prewledge, pre-17 prewylege, pre-17 prewyllage, pre-17 priuelage, pre-17 priuelege, pre-17 priuellege, pre-17 priuilage, pre-17 priuiledge, pre-17 priuilege, pre-17 priuillege, pre-17 priuilyge, pre-17 priulege, pre-17 privalege, pre-17 privalledge, pre-17 privallege, pre-17 priveledge, pre-17 privelege, pre-17 privelidge, pre-17 privelledge, pre-17 privieledge, pre-17 privielege, pre-17 privilage, pre-17 privileage, pre-17 priviledg, pre-17 priviledge, pre-17 privileg, pre-17 privilegde, pre-17 privilidge, pre-17 privilledge, pre-17 priwelage, pre-17 priwelege, pre-17 priwylage, pre-17 17 previlege, pre-17 17– privilege, 19– preevilege.

  8. Priviledge is as correct as privilege, in English anyway, I can't say about American.

    1. Please see my reply to the comment above. Current dictionaries do not include "priviledge" as a spelling, either in the UK or North America.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.