Of Doughnuts and Donuts
Whenever an article I’m editing mentions “donuts,” I change it to
“doughnuts.” But I always cringe a little when I do. Despite my policy of
trying not to have strong opinions on matters like this – matters in which two
choices can be correct and so there’s reason to get too invested in either --
I’m not crazy about the “doughnut” spelling.
I realize that I may be in the minority on this. To many people,
“donut” is to “doughnut” what “thru” is to “through.” I get that. I also get
that “dough” is a foodstuff while “do” is not. So there’s another logical
victory for “doughnut.”
But ever since I was a kid I’ve looked at the word “doughnut” and
marveled at how weird it seems to have the word “nut” in there. Doughnuts don’t
look like nuts, they don’t taste like nuts, most don’t even contain nuts.
Doughballs, doughrounds, doughdrops – any of those I could see. But these
things just don’t strike me as nuts made out of dough.
What’s more, I tend to think of dough as a firm substance you can
hold in your hands and knead on a board, while many doughnuts are made not from
dough but from batter – a liquid that would seep through your fingers if you
tried to hold it. So not only does the second syllable of “doughnuts” seem
illogical to me, the first one does, too.
Of course, my opinion on this is worth the rough equivalent of
nuthin’. Whenever a word has more than one correct spelling, which “doughnut”
does, editors just go with whichever one is preferred by the dictionary.
Dictionaries can indicate their preferred spelling any of a number
of ways. They often use terms like “variant spelling” or “informal spelling” to
indicate their least-favored choice. For example, if you look up “donut” in Webster’sNew World, it says “informal
sp. of doughnut.” If you look it up in Merriam-Webster’s
Collegiate Dictionary, you see “var. of doughnut,” meaning it’s a variant
spelling of the proper word “doughnut.”
Other times, dictionaries will use a word like “or” or “also.” For
example, if you look up the word “ambience” in Webster’s, you’ll see “also sp.
ambiance.” And because this dictionary does not have a separate listing for “ambiance”
with an “a,” you know it prefers “ambience” with an “e.”
But because Webster’s New
World, which is the default dictionary of the Associated Press Stylebook, and Merriam-Webster’s,
which is the default dictionary of the Chicago
Manual of Style, both prefer “doughnut,” that’s how I’ll continue to spell
it, despite how weird it seems to me.