Airplane versus Aeroplane

I’ve spent the past 24 hours wondering when and why the British spelling of “aeroplane” changed to the  spelling “airplane” in the United States.  Will Baker suggested that I check The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1971.

Thankfully, the two volume set comes with a magnifying glass – allowing me to read such fine print and (more importantly) feel like a detective.

Unfortunately, the only spelling of the word in question in this dictionary is “aeroplane” – offering no alternative spelling.

I did a quick Google search – according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “aeroplane” was first used in 1873 and that the alternate spelling “airplane” was first used in 1907.  But this still doesn’t explain when “airplane” became the standard spelling in North-American English.

The handwriting on the subject card does not look like William Borden’s calligraphy.  If it did, the British spelling “aeroplane” would make sense why this spelling is used in our card catalog since he was the head librarian from 1887 until 1910.  Alas, this is not the case….

I decided perhaps the few books with the “aeroplane” subject card used the British spelling.  (and to correct the post from yesterday – there are THREE books with the subject card “aeroplanes” – two cards were stuck together)

The Grim Reapers by Stanley Johnston, published in 1943, dodges the bullet all together by using the shortened spelling, “planes.”

Mitchell : Pioneer of Air Power by Isaac Don Levine, published in 1943, uses the North-American spelling.

Flying Dutchman : The life of Anthony Fokker by Anthony Fokker and Bruce Gould, published in 1931, also uses the North-American spelling.

My last thought is that perhaps the librarians who were here during when these books were published (and presumably acquired) were either more accustomed to the British spelling or simply preferred the British spelling.  A bit of an anticlimactic investigation on my part…..

Elma B. Redfield
Librarian from 1896 – 1966

Abigal D. Dunn
Librarian from 1910 – 1960

Doris Hendricks
Librarian from 1927 – 1990

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