Thursday, 23 October 2014

Definitely or Definately?

This word was formed from Latin definitus, the past participle of the verb definire ‘to bind, limit’.  It was first adopted into English in the 16th century to mean ‘in a definite manner, precisely’.  It has always been spelled definitely, and our 16th century ancestors would be surprised to learn that, according to a survey reported in The Daily Record in June 2009, definitely is ‘definately the most misspelled word in the English language’.  Despite being in widespread use, the misspelling definately comes in for considerable scorn.  The Urban Dictionary has a separate entry for definately, which it defines as: ‘Idiot-speak for “definitely”.  One of the most common moronic misspellings found on the Internet’.  And just to make absolutely clear the kind of people with whom the spelling is associated, the following example is offered: ‘The new Backstreet Boys CD is, like, definately the best thing ever’.  
Spelling Trouble performing with the boys

One anonymous pedant feels so strongly about the correct spelling of this word that he has set up a website with the URL: which simply states: ‘The correct spelling is definitely. Not definately. Not definatly. Not definantly. Not definetly. Not definently. And certainly not defiantly. The correct spelling is definitely.’  The website includes a Frequently Asked Questions page which is similarly to the point.  There is just one question: ‘Are you sure?’, which receives the predictable response: ‘Definitely’.  Unfortunately for this lone orthographic crusader, he has an evil twin who has set up an alternative website with the domain name:, which assures its readers that the correct spelling is definately.  The page offers a single sample sentence, which cleverly hints at the bogus nature of the advice being offered: ‘You definately shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet’.  He might have added that, if you really want to know how to spell the word, try checking a dictionary.  Despite these helpful websites, the misspelling is common on Twitter too; my all-time favourite definately tweet comes in response to the question ‘Does Spelling Still Matter?’: ‘Yes, definately’. 

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