Sunday, September 28, 2014

Getting the Chop

Yesterday, I picked up the classic children's book, Charlotte's Web. The preface to the 60th anniversary edition preaches that if you want to know how to write, you must first read this book. I have read Charlotte's Web a few times, but there it was in my hands, yet again. I flipped to the opening sentence, "Where's Papa going with that ax?" The editor in me awoke. Surely it is spelled "axe"? I'm certain that E.B. White, an accomplished writer and co-author of the famous "Elements of Style" knew how to spell such a simple word. Perhaps it was a printing error. I gave the missing "e" no further thought.

It’s one of those words that I don’t see written that often, but in the last few days, no matter where I look, there is always someone coming at me with an axe, or an ax. This morning I read a list of 17 reasons not to become a Technical Writer. I shall save any criticism of that particular post for others, but suffice it to say that item 15 includes the word "axe". There it was again. This time with the "e" perfectly intact.

As I was pondering "ax" vs. "axe", today’s Dilbert popped into my Inbox. The cartoonist is an American, so I would have expected to see “ax”. But Scott Adams must have insisted on "axe", because there is the "e" in all its glory.
"Dilbert" 28 September 2014
As I write this blog post, Blogger persists to insert a red, squiggly line under every instance of the word "axe". However, The Grammarist says that "axe" and "ax" are indeed different spellings of the same word. Apparently, "ax" is a newer spelling in American English. Although both are still used, "ax" is more popular in the US than "axe". 

In my work as a Technical Writer, the word "ax" or "axe" hasn't yet come up. But because we write in American English, I assume that we would follow E.B White's lead and leave off the "e". Having grown up in Australia, I naturally prefer “axe” because “ax” looks like someone lopped off the “e” with a steel blade attached at right-angles to a wooden handle.

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