168 - Judgment Day Pt 1

The Times used this, Judgment Day, as the title for May 7, election day. They received a number of letters telling them they cannot spell. Judgment (making decisions or opinions), lodgment (what a lodger has or does) ledgment (base course of a moulding) all three can be spelled or spelt with an extra e. This second is the common but wrong spelling. Definitely a wrong spelling in US English. Strictly, Judgment (Grammarist.com, in the US version is the final decisive act in court defining the rights of parties, whereas the UK version means a judicial opinion. The apparent trend is to say that the 2-e version is the British English spelling; but we are wrong.

Being The Times, this became an opportunity to add an article to the Saturday edition in reaction.  Except that the article doesn’t explain; it at best says “We are right; our style guide says so”. Indisputably, from the days when spelling was vague, the consensus fell to the 1-e version.

The reason for our confusion is the other words ending in -ment and -ement. Taking the latter first, and only listing those words starting with letter A, we have abasement, abatement, adorement, agreement, amazement, amusement, atonement, avisement. In each of these the first five letters form a verb, so judgEment would comply. Among the 8-letter words, we find basement, batement, casement, easement, gazement (?), lavement, movement, pavement, pilement... – and again we could argue that the forepart is a verb, one ending in an -e.

However, there is a (small) number of words that disagree with this proposal; argument, accrument, annexment2, beseigment [and, perhaps judgment, ledgment and lodgment]1.  You may say only the first of these (argument) counts in your vocabulary and that this is therefore the proverbial exception. Maybe: I’d far prefer English to have sound rules and to follow them, but it doesn’t and never did. Blame Samuel Johnson and his predecessors. Looking to find a rule that works I suggest that the ‘dg’ combination may give reason to lose the ending e from the verb, as in acknowledge, judge, lodge, abridge. That fails to explain argue becoming argument. I found a growing trend to accept arguement and therefore judgement – that is, to declare the rule to be that -ment is added to the complete verb, with no exceptions. Perhaps in its travels, English will eventually conform.

All of this just adds to my conviction that English is a difficult language. I’m sure a lot of that difficulty stems from its breadth of usage.

DJS 20150514

1 I searched only on 8 and 9-letter words. Add abridgment, acknowledgment, suggesting that the letter g or the -dge- combination is the reason for subsequently losing the e. But note all of these are (nowadays) also to be found in the +e form, ie abridgement, acknowledgement, judgement, lodgement, ledgement. In which case for consistency we should also have adjudgement, arguement,, beseigement, accruement, etceteraement.

2 Annexment is fine, since the verb is annex, not annexe, an optional spelling of the noun. Of course, I’d prefer us to agree that the correct spelling of the noun is annexe, reserving the shorter annex for for verb use.

Part 2 of this looks at what happened in the election. The results, that is.


top pic, having failed to find a pic of the paper itself, from  http://judgmentday2012.org

 However, © David Scoins 2017