Publick or Public? in the 18th and 19th Century Britain

The spelling of -ck was more popular than -c in many words in Britain. But in America, Noah Webster proposed around 1800 to replace -ck by -c, which caused the widespread of this -c spelling in US.

In the early 18th century, some of the English spellings were inconsistent. One of the important object of publishing an English dictionary was to make these inconsistencies less noticeable. And it can be said that in the 18th century standard English spellings mostly follow Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

I worked with Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, and came to presume that even in the 18th century public was more widely used than publick among the British people. Of course, it may have depended on the author’s style or taste. I made a rough examination of the occurrences of these spellings in his Rambler (1750-52), with only a few instances of -c spelling, but in Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791): publick 324 occurrences vs. public 136, critick 43 vs. critic 42, and topick 93 vs topic 25. Can I have more rigid statistical data or information about the historical transition from -ck to -c in the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain?


The switch happened in the second half of the 18th century.

I ran a term frequency search in Eighteenth Century Collections Online, a database that features over 180,000 titles printed between 1701 and 1800. The vast majority are in English and from England, Scotland, Ireland, and the US. Here is the resulting graph:

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The pattern of a diminishing -ck spelling can also be seen in critic and topic:

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NGram gives similar results. The switch happened in the second half of the 18th century. So when Noah Webster published his first edition of his dictionary in 1806, the -ck spelling had already diminished in published writing in English compared to -c.

Source : Link , Question Author : samhana , Answer Author : TaliesinMerlin

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