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Catalog vs. catalogue

In American English, catalog is the more common spelling of the word meaning (1) an itemized list of offerings, and (2) to make an itemized list. Catalogue is the usual spelling outside the U.S. A similar U.S.-versus-everywhere-else distinction applies to the spellings of analog/analogue (though both these forms exist in American English and have differentiated in meaning), but other words ending in the silent -ue (dialogue, monologue, epilogue, etc.) have not changed.

Catalog is inflected cataloging and cataloged. Catalogue becomes cataloguing and catalogued.

History

The following ngram graphs the use of catalog and catalogue in a large number of American texts published in the 20th century. It suggests that the move to the simpler spelling has occurred gradually through this period and is still not fully engrained.


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Although the shift to catalog has happened only recently in the U.S., the spelling is actually many centuries old. The original English spelling, when the word entered the language around the 15th century, was cataloge, and there are documented instances of catalog from as long ago as the 16th century. The influence of French, where the word had long had the -ue ending, took hold soon thereafter, and by the middle 17th century catalogue was the preferred form in English by a large margin.

Only in the late 19th century, with the movement in the U.S. to develop a uniquely American form of the language, did catalog begin to make a comeback. It was not one of the original American spellings, though; the word is listed as catalogue in all early editions of Noah Webster’s dictionary, which played a large role in conventionalizing many other uniquely American spellings. By the 1890s, however, instances of catalog are easily found in all sorts of American texts.

Examples

U.S.

The company will continue to produce print versions of its other seasonal catalogs. [Wall Street Journal]

The catalog is filled with hand-drawn illustrations (shown above), color photographs and articles from the 1800s. [Los Angeles Times]

Until the mid-20th century, the world’s greatest artworks were cataloged in shoeboxes. [New York Times]

Outside the U.S.

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Comments

  1. Unlike the [ sceptic /vs/ skeptic ] spelling-rules versus pronunciation-exceptions case, the [ -log /vs/ -logue ] geographical difference is pretty innocuous, as it is not immediately apparent how one might actually pronounce the tail-end [ -ue ].   Catalogue as “CAT-uh-log-EW”?  Nah, that’s not a word.  It it my perception that the silenced  -ue is systematically normal, affecting almost all constructions similarly. 

    A few notable exceptions:

    Segue
    Ague
    Argue
    Dengue

    Of which I particularly like “segue” with its “seg-way” pronunciation.  3 different endings!  English sure is a wonderment to the senses.

  2. That’s odd. When I was growing up in America, we saw the word spelled “catalogue” in our books and catalogues, and that’s how I learned it. That’s true also for dialogue, epilogue, monologue, and so on.

    • Grammarist says:

      Thank you for your comment. You inspired us to look into exactly when the -ue was dropped from “catalogue” in American English. According to the Ngram we’ve added to the post, “catalog” became the prevalent spelling around 1970. But “catalogue” is still used much of the time, so we can presume that most Americans see both words often. We’re Americans, and we’re certainly used to seeing both (which is what prompted this post).

      •  Thanks for the information.  Still, it baffles me how the changes occur at all.  I mean, I didn’t wake up one morning and read in the paper that the spelling of “catalogue” was now officially “catalog”.  Who does this, change the spellings of words? English professors, writers of dictionaries? And why don’t people deem it to be a misspelling when it happens?

        • Doesn’t it relate to newspaper print? Drop the unneeded vowels? Color Colour, Harbor Harbour, Catalog Catalogue. That was my understanding, the US newspaper print industry influenced it. Could be wrong.

        • Why deem it is a misspelling? As Grammarist pointed out, the -ue spelling wasn’t the first spelling in English so why should that be thought of as right?

          Catalog is cleaner, sleeker, shorter, and more phonetic to boot. I’v never written the ugly -ue spelling and never will.

          In 1876, the American Philological Association took up 11 spellings, and began touting them: ar, catalog, definit, gard, giv, hav, infinit, liv, tho, thru, and wisht. Two years later the Philological Society of England joind in the work. By 1886, the list had grown to 3500 words.

          In 1898, the (American) National Education Association (NEA) began touting a list of 12 spellings: tho, altho, thru, thruout, thoro, thoroly, thorofare, program, prolog, catalog, decalog, and pedagog … all of which are still found today.

    • I’m the same way. I’m writing a novel now, and just looked this up because Scrivener flagged ‘catalogue’ as misspelled, as does my browser apparently.
      I will use the ‘official’ American spelling of words when there is a difference in definition or use, but not just because a spelling is in vogue… or should I say ‘vog’?

      • The spelling catalog is not “in vogue”, it has been firmly establisht in American spelling and is the dominant spelling in American English. That is why your spellchecker kicks out the -ue spelling.

  3. I also use catalogue spelling and I’m 30!  That’s how I’ve always used it.  Came here to see if that was acceptable or not.  I like the gue better, seems more formal ;)

    • Nothing at all more formal about the -ue spelling of catalog.

      • Tyler DeLisle says:

        I’m an American, 33 and I spell it catalogue, came here same as others because it kept getting flagged as incorrect. I didn’t even realize there was a difference, not sure where I picked it up. Even more confusing, I use analog, epilogue, dialog, monologue. Also odd that spell checker here accepts analogue but not catalogue.

  4. Great article, thank you for posting it. In my opinion, catalogue is a more elegant word than catalog. I also wonder how these changes happen?

  5. reardensteel says:

    Actually, I think dialog is taking over for dialogue, especially in computer nomenclature.

    • I disagree. There is a difference in meaning. I use dialog when programming and dialogue everywhere else.

      • reardensteel says:

        I think we agree in part.

        The thing on a computer with questions and buttons is called a dialog box, but the spoken part of a screenplay is called dialogue.
        That’s how I use the two words.

        However, it seems to me more and more people are using dialog in all contexts.

  6. Interesting article, thank you! In my linguistics classes in college, we talked a lot about how American English changed the English words a little before the turn of the last century. It wasn’t to “dumb down” as one commenter put it, but it was actually an attempt to make American English more Latinized, and therefore “better” (I use these quotes heavily). My understanding is that Latin does not have superfluous “Us” such as appears in favourite and colour. Catalogue and catalog would be similar.

    This was just the original intent; it isn’t necessarily what happened. :)

  7. Durant Imboden says:

    I’d be inclined to use “catalog,” but I’d cringe at “cataloged” unless I meant to use the pronunciation “catalojed” rather than “catalogued.”

    • …As well as “catalojing” for “cataloguing.”

      • My thoughts exactly. I came here because today, a co-worker “corrected” my use of ‘cataloguing’ in a document several of us are reviewing. In the interest of keeping the peace, I left it alone (although I did inform her that both versions are correct). MS Word, for the record, did not try to correct it.

  8. Another problem is on-line dictionaries, at least the ones built into the various browsers, that seem to think “cataloguing” and “catalogued” are not spelled correctly. Beg to differ.

    • That’s exactly what brought me to this post. I never noticed the “catalog” spelling to be honest. I always used and still use the -gue, I typed it into a Facebook comment and Google’s Chrome yelled at me. lol It’s a shame. Like we don’t already have a complicated enough language, it needs to continue to deviate further and further from non-US English language.

  9. Until reading this I never considered that, for years, I had been using catalogue as a verb and catalog as a noun.

  10. Jimmy Dee says:

    lol, it was my BRITISH boss and BRITISH co-worker who BOTH spelled it Catalog (I’m Canadian). The co-worker knows he can’t spell, but the British boss is always saying about how much better his English is than mine. Also how much better his French, Spanish and Italian is – but he doesn’t actually speak any of those languages… odd. heh.

    As to I spell it catalogue. I tend to make a bit of a distinction that probably doesn’t exist though. I think of a Catalogue as a book that catalogues items and products with pictures and such – something with a bit more vibrance and vitality, but when I think of a catalog, I think of a card cabinet like they used to have at libraries – primarily just raw data.

    Similarly with dialogue, I think of dialogue as speech. Dialog – I think of a computer interface or “dialog box”. Again, dialogue seems to match the idea of vibrance and action and the ‘log’ suffix suggests something static like a box.

    I wonder if there’s a low-level association with the ‘u’ in language. Language, Langue, Dialogue.

  11. Kate Hoover says:

    I found this article by googling the word, catalogue, to verify the spelling. When I tried to use the word on Facebook with -ue, my computer underlined it in red. As a matter of fact, when I typed it here, it also underlined the -ue spelling. I am 60, grew up in Los Angeles to a teacher and a used book dealer, both avid readers, as am I. I knew the word without -ue had become acceptable, but had not realized the spelling with -ue was becoming unacceptable. Well, I have to say, ever since ‘irregardless’ (not underlined in red!) made it into dictionaries simple because ignorant people used it, I have been rather disgusted with American dictionaries. It was bad enough when ‘ain’t’ found it’s way in. I understand how a living language changes over time, eventually allowing words that were slang to become mainstream, but when words are allowed that are a lazy man’s version or bad grammar that won’t die, it is not a logical evolution. It is giving up.

  12. I prefer “catalog” word

  13. KansasWrangler says:

    Thank you for this information. The reason I was researching it is because I was working a British crossword that used catalog for the verb and catalogue for the noun.

  14. still_right says:

    As with the language, many other aspects of advanced civilization have been debased since the mid twentieth century due to the ravages of “progressivism”. Ironic how the quest for “progress” has lead to such sustained regression. But again, “progress” is quite a subjective notion, as evidenced by the unfolding course of events. Only time will tell how much “progress” our society will make on its grand and improvident march, or how much of it we will endure.

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