Literally has long been a contentious issue in language. Next post: Figurative 'literally' in the OED

Rastafarian language emerged as an in-group language in the 1940s. Previous Post: Rastafarian language

Font of knowledge or fountain of knowledge (the latter depicted here)

‘Fount of knowledge’ or ‘font of knowledge’?

There are few things more likely to cause fierce argument between language-lovers than variant spellings of everyday expressions, especially if one is celebrated by language traditionalists and the other by the linguistic vanguard. You may remember the heated arguments that arose over the topic of pronouncing scone (some friendships have never truly recovered) – well, today we are turning from pronunciation to spelling. And it’s not even the old chestnut of British vs. American spelling – rather, we’re looking at some spellings which are changing over time.

 

Fount of knowledge vs font of knowledge

When referring to a wise person, would you write fount of knowledge or font of knowledge? This is another choice where both options seem to make some sense. A fount is an alternative term for fountain which first appears in the 16th century as a back-formation based on the equivalent mount and mountain. A fountain, of course, is the source of a desirable entity (water) and this inspired the figurative use of a fount of knowledge. A font, on the other hand, is the receptacle used for holding water for baptism – which would collocate with the idea of wisdom being imparted. Coincidentally, it also derives from the word fountain, but via the Latin equivalent font-em. Below, you can see the results of our poll question:

fount of knowledge

The standard accepted form is fount of knowledge, and this was also the term chosen by the majority of voters in our poll (67%) despite the Oxford English Corpus suggesting that font of knowledge is now the more common form. Evidently our readers have all drunk from the knowledge fountain, and know which version is the longest-standing.

 

Whether or not you think that we should have a free rein over spelling, it seems inevitable that as long as the English language continues to evolve, we will come across variant spellings for words and phrases. Are there any words that you are uncertain how to spell, or for which you often come across alternative spellings? Let us know in the comments below, and we may well use them in future polls.

The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.