This word is a Turkish borrowing which first appeared in the seventeenth century in two spellings: yoghurd and yogourt. The “g” of the original Turkish word was unpronounced; our modern pronunciation is due to the influence of the spelling. In America the word is commonly spelled yogurt; the increasing use of this spelling in the UK has led people to view its adoption as evidence of the Americanisation of English spelling. In 2009, Clair Cheney, director general of the Provision Trade Federation, unwittingly ignited a row that spread across the media by suggesting that The Grocer magazine should officially drop the “h” from this word to reflect industry usage. Cheney’s suggestion was prompted by a desire for consistency; however, by inadvertently promoting a supposed American spelling over a British one, she incurred the wrath of many commentators.
But this isn’t a simple case of British versus American usage. Spellings with both “g” and “gh” have been common since the seventeenth century and have left us with the variant spellings yoghurt and yogurt that we find today. In fact, most dictionaries (including the OED) prefer the yogurt spelling, while others give both, sometimes along with a third option: yoghourt. Most yoghurt producers have adopted the yogurt spelling, although the connotations of traditional Englishness that have become attached to the yoghurt spelling are exploited by companies like Duchy Originals, as can be seen above. Ironically, one of the few other producers to adopt this spelling is Total, a firm offering ‘authentic Greek yoghurt’. The luxury yoghurt brand Loseley, which prides itself on being ‘no ordinary yoghourt’, is clearly attempting to harness the originality of this spelling to mark out its individuality from the rest of the market.