Monday, 31 December 2012


Ok, so this isn’t a word you find yourself writing down very often, but it’s one of a number of words where there is a genuine choice.  Do you spell it raccoon or racoon?  Looking up the word in a dictionary reveals that both options are acceptable, although the OED claims that raccoon is the more common, particularly in the US.  If that kind of uncertainty troubles you, be grateful that we haven’t retained any of the earliest spellings of this word.  It was first adopted in English in the sixteenth century from the Native American language used in Virginia, known as Algonquian, where the word appears as aroughcun.  Early attempts to render the word in English spelling led to a rich variety of fiendishly difficult spellings, such as rahaugcum, rarowcun, raugroughcum, and arathkone.  The earliest occurrence in English recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary 
appears in a description by the colonialist John Smith of a native American bedspread:

Their Emperour proudly lying upon a Bedstead a foote high, upon tenne or twelve Mattes, richly hung with manie Chaynes of great Pearles about his necke, and coverd with a great Covering of Rahaughcums.

The spelling rackoon was adopted by Dr Johnson in his Dictionary of 1755, while raccoon and racoon were contemporary alternatives.  Searching Google for these spellings today suggests that raccoon is indeed the more frequently used of the two.  However, racoon is still widely recorded, largely thanks to its unlikely association with a Dutch rock band, a company offering hair extensions and a mobile phone payment tariff. 

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