Spelling with a c or an s (was Re: A College of Magics)

Kyla Tornheim kyla at sccs.swarthmore.edu
Thu Aug 28 18:05:11 EDT 2003

On Thu, 28 Aug 2003 minnow at belfry.org.uk wrote:

> Kyla answered me very definitely:
> >In the US it's "practice" no matter which part of speech it is.
> What happens about other similar pairs, such as advise/advice,
> prophesy/prophecy, devise/device, license/licence?  Is it entirely
> arbitrary, or is there some arcane ruling that reverses the s/c=verb/noun
> one that is clear in English english, but only reverses it for some words
> and for some reason decided (as much of English english spelling seems to
> have been) by some mad clergyman a couple of hundred years ago who made it
> stick by writing a dictionary/grammar book?

Um. I think it's truly random. I'm having a slight problem being positive
about the uses of these spellings, because I read so many non-American
books. Let's see.

In the US, as far as I can remember:

You advise someone, therefore you have given them advice.
The seer prophesied a prophecy.
The engineer devised a device.

However, the government licenses you to drive by giving you a license.
That one's the same for either part of speech.

Y'know, I hadn't noticed the consistency of which part of speech the s is
used for. That's nifty.

It is now quite lawful for a Catholic woman to avoid
pregnancy by a resort to mathematics, though she is
still forbidden to resort to physics and chemistry.
       --H. L. Mencken

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