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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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Thursday, July 26, 2018

CSI: Spelling. What's wrong with rigour mortis?

Wait. Is that a.... spelling mistake? Why, yes, it is!

I recently saw  someone (no doubt a Canadian) write "rigour mortis" instead of the correct "rigor mortis". 

I suspect a Canadian because we Canadians have a very strong tendency to write "-or" words as "-our" just to prove we're not American -- even when "-or" is the correct spelling. See these posts:
and for the explanation of the :-or/-our" split, see this post:

"Rigour" derives ultimately from the Latin rigor (unbending quality, stiffness, rigidity), but it came into English in the 1400s by way of Middle French, where rigor had morphed into rigour. British English and other varieties of Commonwealth English retained this spelling, whereas American English opted for "rigor".

"Rigor mortis", on the other hand, was borrowed directly from Latin in the early 19th century.  It retains its Latin spelling in all varieties of English.

And to make life more complicated, the adjective "rigorous" is also so spelled in all varieties of English.

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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.