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mischievous

Mischievous or mischievious?

Our most recent poll asked our readers the following question:

Poll

Which spelling would you have chosen? If you had gone with ‘mischievious’ you would have been with the majority of our voters – 53% of people chose this spelling. However, the standard accepted spelling is in fact ‘mischievous’, chosen by 47% of our readers.

Mischievous is an adjective meaning: ‘causing or showing a fondness for causing trouble in a playful way’ and ‘causing or intending to cause harm or trouble’. It originates from Anglo-Norman French meschevous, which in turn comes from the Old French meschef ‘harm, trouble, mischief’. The sense ‘playfully troublesome’ dates from the late 17th century.

Poll-results

In our poll, the non-standard spelling proved to be more popular than the standard one. As the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) states, it is likely that this alternative spelling has stemmed from the fact that the termination of mischievous /-ˈiːvəs/ (‘an ‘ee’ sound followed by ‘vuhss’) is rare (its only other occurrence in English being grievous), and people therefore replace it with the more common /-ˈiːvɪəs/ (‘ee’ + ‘vious’) ending found in words such as devious, previous, etc.

You may be surprised to hear that the use of the non-standard ‘mischievious’ is not a new phenomenon, in fact, according to the OED, this spelling has been in use as a variant since the 1500s. It was also common for the word to be pronounced with stress on the second syllable until at least 1700. However, ‘mischievious’ is now viewed as non-standard and tends to be seen in regional, colloquial, or humorous use (when its users are feeling mischievous).