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A spelling question

REP

Just a quick crazy question.

4 is spelled 'four', 4th is spelled 'fourth', and 40 is spelled 'forty'.

Does anyone have an idea why the 'u' is dropped out of 40.

Replies:   Switch Blayde  Zom
Crumbly Writer

Here's a link from Grammarly that explains it, but basically the roots for four (German) and forty (for and ten) are different (Norwegian).

Replies:   helmut_meukel  REP
helmut_meukel

@Crumbly Writer

Grammarly opens more questions than it explains.

As early as 1821, its modern spelling appeared in expressions such as forty winks [...]


I interpred this it was a slow process until forty was established.
But what did it replace?
fourty or something like two scores?

If you think 'two scores' is far-fetched, the French still have the equivalent of 'four scores' for eighty and 'four scores and ten' for ninety.

HM.

BTW, I say lets all use fourty and we will finally establish an "alternate spelling" recognized by the dictionaries!

Ross at Play
Updated:

@helmut_meukel

Grammarly [states], "As early as 1821, its modern spelling appeared in expressions such as forty winks".
[It] opens more questions than it explains ...
I interpreted this it was a slow process until forty was established.
But what did it replace?
fourty or something like two scores?

You are correct that this mystery remains unsolved.
ngrams suggests forty gained acceptance in the 1600s, but the earlier form was not fourty.

REP
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

Your reference was interesting CW. The first paragraph of your Grammerly reference stated:


Though it's related to the number "four" (4), the modern spelling of 40 is "forty." The older form, "fourty," is treated as a misspelling today. The modern spelling could reflect a historical pronunciation change.


That answers my original question. Now, I'm curious as to why the spelling was changed, but this is more ideal curiosity on my part, so unless someone is also interested, don't waste a lot of time on an answer.

Wikipedia says the change was made in the 17th Century, but doesn't say why it was changed. The Grammerly article says, the spelling change fourty to forty may have been related to a pronunciation change. That rationale seems odd to me for people tend to pronounce words based on their spelling. So I doubt the pronunciation of 'fourty' would deviate far enough to warrant changing the spelling to 'forty'; it seems more likely for people to correct their pronunciation. It also seems to me that if the pronunciation of 'fourty' changed enough to warrant a spelling change, so would the pronunciation of 'four' and 'fourteen', but both of those spellings retained the 'u'.

ETA: Seasons Greetings to All, and to All a Good Night.

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@helmut_meukel

I interpred this it was a slow process until forty was established.

But what did it replace?

fourty or something like two scores?

It was originally "fourty" which was popular for a long time, until the Norwegian version, consisting of a combination of the Norwegian "for" and their word for ten, began to gain a footing. Why it caught on only for some versions of four and not others, I don't know, but at the time, there were substantial numbers of both German and Norwegian immigrants, so it makes sense they'd split the difference.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

It was originally "fourty" which was popular for a long time,

But ngrams shows "fourty" has never existed as anything other than misspelling of "forty". Something quite different was used prior to the 17th century.

Switch Blayde

@REP

From http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/57559.html

Trying to figure out why something is spelled the way it is in
English is often frustrating. :-) Spelling didn't become very
'stable' until well after the time of Shakespeare; if your 7th
and 8th graders haven't seen Shakespearean spelling yet, it might
be an eye-opener for them.

A better question to ask of a good etymological dictionary like
Webster's Second International might be where the words four and
forty come from. My dictionary says this:

ME. is Middle English, the language of England between about
1100 and 1500 A.D.

AS. is Anglo-Saxon, the language of the Saxon tribes that invaded
England in the 5th and 6th centuries - from about 600 A.D.

OS. is Old Saxon, the language of the original Saxon tribes of
northwest Germany between the Rhine and the Elbe rivers.

forty: ME. forti, fourti, fowerti, from AS. feowertig;
akin to OS. fiwartig, fiartig

four: ME. four, fower, feower, from AS. feower;
akin to OS. fiwar

So four and forty were different words starting a long time ago but
were spelled with the same beginning in Old Saxon and Anglo-Saxon
and part of Middle English. Somewhere along the way during the
Middle English era the simpler spelling of forty took hold and has continued ever since.

Of course it was easier to change spellings before there were
dictionaries and teachers paying close attention to your spelling.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

But ngrams shows "fourty" has never existed as anything other than misspelling of "forty". Something quite different was used prior to the 17th century.

Ross, I wouldn't worry about ngram responses for anything prior to the mid 1800s - they're based on the contents of printed works, mostly academic works. Also most of the writing done in the between the 11th century and the 18th century often had the letter 's' look like what we now call an 'f' now, and many people often misinterpret an 's' as an 'f' so that could be affecting what the scanned images in the ngram software are seeing.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

Ross, I wouldn't worry about ngram responses for anything prior to the mid 1800s

I agree ngrams should always be treated with a fair degree of scepticism.
I am careful about which 'corpus' I select for ngrams results I post here.
For most queries I select the "English Fiction" corpus and rarely go further back than 1950.
For queries to investigate the history words I usually choose the corpus called "English One Million". It is based on a selection of books, 6,000 each year in more recent years (but I think much less going way back), intended to provide a representative sample of books published during that year. I don't know what criteria they used, and they surely included some forms of bias, but I think you can be confident that searches of this corpus will not suffer from the widespread criticism of ngrams that the results are skewed by overwhelming numbers of scientific publications. I think you can also be confident that whatever criteria they used, they applied them pretty consistently over all years, so any obvious trends in the results probably show something real.

Regarding the initial problems they had with misreading old-style 's' as 'f', Google says they've worked on correcting those mistakes, and I am sure they would have concentrated on their English One Million corpus first.
That did not cause any problem in the search I linked to above: both 'sorty' and 'sourty' are virtually non-existent. There were a few examples of 'sorty' being used, but if you look at ngram1 and ngram2 those began at the same time and are a misspelling of 'sortie'.

I'm still sure that, based on these results, the word that existed before 'forty' began being used in the 17th century was NOT 'fourty'.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

I'm still sure that, based on these results, the word that existed before 'forty' began being used in the 17th century was NOT 'fourty'.


That's probably true, it was very likely something like 2 score; meaning 2 x 20. There's a reason why Lincoln said Four score in his famous speech - that was because then they commonly used multiples of score to designate what we now call 40, 60, 80.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

it was very likely something like 2 score

That would certainly have been my guess, until I check ngrams and found both 'two score' and 'four score' taking off about 1800, i.e. long after 'forty' started but before Lincoln was born.

What existed before 'forty' remains a complete mystery as far as I'm concerned.

Expanding on my earlier comments about the "English One Million" corpus. It is NOT as reliable as I would like when going back further than about 1700. For relatively common expressions the results do appear reasonable, however, for obscure expressions I have noticed some results I'd classify of mere noise. Sometimes changing to the basic "English" corpus instead produces results that appear at least indicative of something.

I usually find it useful, and sometimes a few experiments are needed to draw any conclusions at all. Sometimes, for the really old stuff, you know what we programmers say about "Garbage in, ..." :-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

But ngrams shows


Another aspect of the ngrams that isn't obvious is there has always been a variance between what is written in letters, what is printed in books, and especially what is said, and the ngrams don't address those aspects at all. Nor do they show much about changing word meanings.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

Whoops. You were quoting me, not SB.

You could go on listing limitations of ngrams for a long time and not hear any objections from me.

When you selectively quote this:

But ngrams shows

... and then go on to list a series of limitations the clear implication is you are saying that it is never valid to say "ngrams shows".

I think it is valid - sometimes - and the link I provided was one of those times. It showed:
1. 'fourty' being virtually non-existent for six hundred years.
2. 'forty' being virtually non-existent until 1600, then rising rapidly over about 30 years, and remianing relatively stable ever since.

Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

... and then go on to list a series of limitations the clear implication is you are saying that it is never valid to say "ngrams shows".


I'm saying you can't take the ngrams as being gospel, and you have to be very careful with how you analyse the results due to the many limitations. In other words, keep a huge block of salt handy when using them. They can be useful indicators in some situation, but never anything definitive.

Replies:   Ross at Play
Zom

@REP

Does anyone have an idea why the 'u' is dropped out of 40.

Just the US dropping another 'u'?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Zom

Just the US dropping another 'u'?


That's OK, but don't drop another nuke.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

I'm saying you can't take the ngrams as being gospel

Okay.

If you want to post such comments for the information of others, please go ahead, but try to post them as Reply to Topic, not as a response directed at me. I made it clear in my response to your first reply that I was well aware of the limitations of ngrams. I described in some detail what I had done so that the result I had posted showed something significant. You made two most posts directed at me telling me things I already made clear I already knew.

That gets irritating real quick.

Please try to be careful WHO you direct your posts at. You don't need Reply to Post to reference what somebody else has said. It's simple enough to copy, paste, and quote their statements.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Ross at Play

but try to post them as Reply to Topic, not as a response directed at me.


Ross, part of the problem with doing as you ask is the topic title is A Spelling Question while this sub-thread is on the ngrams. Thus to show the reply is directly on the ngrams and not the main topic I quoted a section from where the ngrams are mentioned that relates to the aspect on the ngrams I'm referring to. If the topic had been ngrams, I would have just hit reply to topic, but it wasn't, so I went with what got closest to what i was responding to, This is a common issue when a thread weaves off line a bit. Whenever I quote something you can be sure that's what the reply is focused on.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

It takes about ten extra seconds:
* highlight words anywhere in the thread you want to quote
* go down to select Reply to Thread instead of just hitting Reply to current post
* insert an introduction above the words which will be quoted, e.g. "Ross said above:"
* continue on exactly as you would have

That's all it takes - to avoid causing needless offence to somebody else.

Maybe you didn't notice the change Lazeez made some months ago. If words are highlighted anywhere within a thread, when you select Reply to Topic those words now appear as a quote when the dialogue box appears.

I don't object to you quoting and commenting on things I say. I just object when you direct negative-sounding comments at me when you know I'm the only one here who's definitely NOT interested: because I already know.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ross at Play

@Ernest Bywater

In truth, when I re-read your last two posts they weren't as bad as I first thought.
You actually did a reasonable job of making clear that you weren't being critical of me. The first began, "That's probably true, ..." and the second, "Another aspect ..." :-)

This is a pet peeve of mine on this site. I see a lot of squabbles erupting for no other reason that someone thoughtlessly hits Reply to a post - making contrary comments appear directed at the person being quoted - when the actual intent was to provide additional information for others.

I would have preferred your last two posts to made using Reply to Thread, then quoting and commenting on what I said. I accept you made an effort to word your posts so it was clear they were intended to be informative.

It really is very easy now after the change Lazeez made, and it frustrates me that many here do not consider who they are addressing and frame their posts accordingly as they write them.

On this occasion it was your quoting of just "But ngrams shows" that set me off. You'd already commented twice. Because it was you, I was almost expecting another never-give-up campaign, and quoting just those words suggested an intention to show ngrams can never be considered to "show" anything. That is when my WTF button was pressed.

All I'm asking of you, and others, is simply to think before selecting the Reply button. Do you really want to address your comments at that person? If you know they already know what you intend to say or your comments are only intended to provide additional information, the polite thing to do, which won't appear as if you're pointing a finger at them, is to use the Reply to Thread option instead. It only takes a few seconds and it will forestall at least some of the needless squabbles we have here.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

But ngrams shows "fourty" has never existed as anything other than misspelling of "forty". Something quite different was used prior to the 17th century.

Once again, while ngrams are entertaining, they're hardly definitive. But I'm just repeating what I saw when I tried searching for the answer myself. Frankly, I don't know what was 'popular' before forty (though I'm guessing it was 35!)

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Of course it was easier to change spellings before there were
dictionaries and teachers paying close attention to your spelling.

Or authors arguing over which form is 'acceptable'.

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

What existed before 'forty' remains a complete mystery as far as I'm concerned.

Since ngrams mainly represents scholarly printings (the "English One Million" corpus might not have anywhere near one million entries for fiction), I'm guessing the results were mainly either religious or scholarly (Latin based) works, so the dates were probably Roman numerals (XV?).

Anyone has a decent Shakespeare compendium? How did ol' William spell 40?

Replies:   Ross at Play
Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

1. 'fourty' being virtually non-existent for six hundred years.
2. 'forty' being virtually non-existent until 1600, then rising rapidly over about 30 years, and remianing relatively stable ever since.

Something must have existed before that, and if it wasn't an English term, I'm guessing it was Roman numerals (though how it was said is anyone's guess, since that doesn't seem to have been recorded).

Crumbly Writer

@Ross at Play

That's all it takes - to avoid causing needless offence to somebody else.

I'm guessing someone either woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or didn't get that present they were hoping for this year! 'D

Replies:   Ross at Play
Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

'm guessing someone either woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or didn't get that present they were hoping for this year!

You had an example recently where a failure to consider who you were addressing your comments to risked "causing needless offence" to someone posting here for the first time. He didn't call it a "hornet's nest" here without good reason.
All I am suggesting is people give others the simple courtesy of a moment's thought before starting to draft their posts, and sometimes, an extra ten seconds effort.

Ross at Play

@Crumbly Writer

Anyone has a decent Shakespeare compendium? How did ol' William spell 40?

forty ... and there's heaps of them.
That's from The Complete Works Second Edition, edited by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, first published in 1986 by Oxford University Press.

The significance is that ol' Will did almost all his good stuff from 1590 to 1613.

When I changed the ngrams corpus to British English, it suggested a gradual increase in the use of forty starting about 1550. I'm not prepared to trust that because it's obvious the number of books from 1500-1550 is so low the results are just noise.

BUT, precisely when people started using 'forty', or that it came from Norwegian, has never been the point under discussion here. I only posted the damn ngrams result to show that what was being used before was NOT 'fourty'. No one has apparently ever used that.

So, the mystery still remains in my opinion.

Dominions Son

@Ernest Bywater

That's OK, but don't drop another nuke.


Only one country has ever used nuclear weapons in war. At the time, the total global nuclear inventory was two devices, we used both of them. :)

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

At the time, the total global nuclear inventory was two devices, we used both of them. :)

It's hardly an arsenal if everyone has access to them, but at least we were the first for complete nuclear de-escalation.'D

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Dominions Son


At the time, the total global nuclear inventory was two devices,


Actually, I believe it was three devices - One tested, two used. I'm pretty sure they had another to go for Japan, but didn't use it. However, the wikipedia page is a little ambiguous. It says a Fat Man and a Little boy were dropped while it also says the parts for a Little Boy and two Thin Man bombs were shipped to Tinian, but the third core shipment was held back.

BlacKnight
Updated:

The original English spellings of 4, 14, and 40 were feower, feowertiene, and feowertig, respectively.

Source: J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

The modern spellings are all contractions of those. "Forty" just got contracted a little more than the others.

"Fortnight", incidentally, is similarly a contraction of feowertieneniht, "fourteen nights".

Also relevant: Feowertiene, "fourteen", is just feower, "four", and tiene, "ten". Tiene contracted to "ten" when standing alone, but "-teen" in the other numbers it appeared in.

Ross at Play
Updated:

@BlacKnight

The original English spellings of 4, 14, and 40 were feower, feowertiene, and feowertig, respectively.

Thanks.

I'm satisfied the mystery has been solved.
This ngrams looks pretty conclusive to me. :-)

Crumbly Writer

@BlacKnight

The original English spellings of 4, 14, and 40 were feower, feowertiene, and feowertig, respectively.

That answers that, as opposed to the rest of use guessing about where they came from. 'D

Replies:   Capt. Zapp
Capt. Zapp

@Crumbly Writer

That answers that,


So the next question is, why did they change from the shorter 'yf' to 'wife'?

REP

@BlacKnight

To restate my original question - Why does four and fourth have a 'u' and forty omitted it?

Defining the source of the 3 words and the spelling of those words does not answer the question. I might also point out all 3 source words begin with 'feower', so logic says that all three words should begin with 'four' (or 'for').

That logic appears valid in that the I have found sources that state prior to the 16th century, 40 was spelled fourty and then was changed to forty. However, none of the sources indicate why the spelling of just the one word was changed.

The Grammarly Blog suggested that the change may have been due to a pronunciation change. Personally, I doubt that reason is valid. If the reason were valid, then the pronunciation of 'four' in all 3 words would have been the same, and one would expect the 'u' to have been dropped from all of the words.

I have been unable to find a source that provides a reason for changing the spelling. Do you or someone else have a source?

Replies:   Zom
Zom

@REP

Why does four and fourth have a 'u' and forty omitted it?

It's the Americans! They took the 'u's out of a bunch of stuff, so we can blame forty on them too :-)

Dominions Son

@Zom

It's the Americans! They took the 'u's out of a bunch of stuff


It was the New Yorker's, they needed all the u's for other things. :)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

It was the New Yorker's, they needed all the u's for other things. :)

They needed them for all their extra Forks. 'D

REP
Updated:

@Zom

I did it with my little hatchet. I just chopped them out. :)

awnlee jawking

@Zom

It's the Americans! They took the 'u's out of a bunch of stuff


In that case, it would leave 'a bnch of stff' ;)

AJ

Replies:   helmut_meukel
helmut_meukel

@awnlee jawking

It's the Americans! They took the 'u's out of a bunch of stuff


In that case, it would leave 'a bnch of stff' ;)


But didn't they just remove the 'u's after 'o's?
So it's "In that case, it 'wold' leave a bunch of stuff", isn't it? ;)

HM.

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