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Flier vs. flyer

Outside the U.S., there is no difference between flyer and flier. They are interchangeable, though flyer is about twice as common as flierAmerican writers tend to use flyer for small handbills and flier for people and things that fly. This distinction does not run deep, though, and the two spellings are very often used interchangeably even in the U.S., so it’s safe to say that neither is correct or incorrect for any sense of the word.

An earlier version of this post said simply that flier is the American spelling for all senses of the word while flyer is preferred everywhere else. This is the conventional wisdom, but it’s not consistently borne out in practice.

There is little consistency in spelling of the word outside the U.S. The Guardian style book, for example, says “flyer, not flier,” while the Daily Telegraph style book says “flier, not flyer,” but in practice these newspapers and other non-U.S. publications use both spellings seemingly with no pattern except that flyer is more common. Obviously there is no agreement on the issue, and the flier–flyer distinction is unsettled for now.

Examples

American publications tend to use use flier for someone who flies and flyer for a small handbill, as in these examples:

American Airlines introduced the first of what we now know as frequent flier programs in May 1981, with 283,000 members. [USA Today]

According to the flyer—which depicts a raised, clenched fist holding a pencil, a play on the movement’s symbol—Duggan plans to bring in guest speakers. [Wall Street Journal]

The infrequent flier about to get on the plane at Reno-Tahoe International Airport had sores all over him. [Los Angeles Times]

“Join us as we revisit a familiar and beloved neighborhood of the Christmas Tour,” a flyer for the event says. [Boston Globe]

Again, though, this is just a tendency and not a rule, and we could find plenty of counterexamples.

Outside the U.S., flyer is more common for all senses of the word—for example:

Something of his alert oversight probably came from his experience as a flyer. [Guardian (U.K.)]

Once inside a store, look for items that are on the outside cover of the weekly specials flyer. [Globe and Mail (Canada)]

Elected just 18 months ago, already a high-flyer. [Telegraph]

They must also stop distributing or displaying any literature, flyers or signage containing any unregistered business name. [Sydney Morning Herald]

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Comments

  1. I’m assuming the parallel cases exist for crier/cryer, drier/dryer, frier/fryer, etc., yes?

    Sorry to learn the “i” spelling is standard here in the States.  I rather like the (aesthetic and unambiguous) look of the “y” spelling.

    • Very interesting parallel you mention.  I had never thought about that before!

      I would use the “ie” spelling for a flier (pamphlet), but would use the “y” if I were to write… “better remember to bring the hair dryer your friend requested because she is a cryer”! However, I would also say… “the towels over there in the sun are drier, feel free to grab one, I have to run inside to put the fish in the deep fryer.”  : )Huh!As your astute parallel assumption suggests,  I suppose making one spelling choice and applying it across the board would be preferred for the sake of consistency, and also because it allows for creation of a spelling/grammar ‘rule’, if you will.   However I think personal preference and style probably prevail when there is no definitive “correct” spelling that is accepted by the majority.  Hence, and probably to the dismay of school teachers everywhere, these spelling choices may likely continue to be largely based on not only the word, but the person using it.  

  2. hmm, interesting you say the “i” is the more American version, since I have tended to always use the “y” versions myself, and I never knew anything of different versions until recently trying to decide how to correctly spell something and stumbling upon this post (I am American if you haven’t guessed by now).  :-)

  3. Hmm, here in the UK I’ve always believed the “Y” variety to be the accepted spelling although one exception is for “Town Crier” indicating that the “Y” may have been recently adopted.

  4. The 2011 version of the Associated Press Stylebook states that “flier” is the preferred term for an aviator or a handbill, while “flyer” is the proper name of some trains and buses.

  5. Staley77 says:

    Both mean me, John C. Staley, in comparison of flyness to anyone else.

  6. So the hockey team in Philadelphia are named after handbills, not aviators? :)

  7. P. T. Barnum says:

    Is a flying trapeze artist a flyer or a flier ?

  8. It seems from the examples that flyer is used more for the advertising document, as to flier being used for a person.
    Sports reference – Philadelphia Flyers are referring toward the speed of the players.

  9. And I was taught that flyer was something or someone who flew and flier was a handbill, sheet of paper, etc. As for the Philadelphia Flyers, wow…..I can’t even figure that one out! lol

  10. Might want to check an AP Stylebook, as “flier” is preferred for a handbill or an aviator. “Flyer” is preferred for airplane or bus routes. As in, “The Airport Flyer takes me from the airport to Oakland.”

  11. Sam Kaplan says:

    The Philadelphia Flyers logo suggests speed – it’s got those speed lines – so it seems the name refers to fast-moving people, which is what hockey players are. So are people who use airplanes. And what about “freeway fliers” who race in these parlous times from job to job?’s Would they rather be flyers or fliers? If you’re a “flier,” aren’t you apt to have someone call you a fleer? In any case, the “frequent flyer” programs of the major American airlines seem generally to spell it with a Y. Despite the venerable history of the town crier, I’m therefore inclined to think that “flyer” is emergent and destined for hegemony – even though my computer program routinely tags “flyer” as incorrect. .

  12. Dominion_Lad says:

    As a University graduate and voracious reader from Canada, I never saw the spelling “flier” until a story appeared in today’s National Post (our “other” ersatz national English newspaper), which ran an Associated Press article on non-flushable wipes. They referred to one municipality resorting to sending “fliers” to its residents to ask them to stop the practice. I thought the spelling odd, and it seems to run counter most of the US style guides.

    Why do Americans insist on bizarre spellings? Color might make some sense (though I prefer traditional Canadian/Commonwealth spelling), but defense and license?

  13. Diana Quier Severn says:

    It is interesting to note that my spell checker will not accept either spelling.

  14. Good to know that. Thank you for the tips. There are so many different words between British English vs US American and this makes the language more beautiful and fun to learn.

  15. This is wrong. Fliers are handbills as well. From Twitter:

    AP Style tip: Flier is the preferred term for an aviator or handbill. Flyer is the proper name of some trains and buses: The Western Flyer.

  16. Chris Johnston says:

    In analogy with dryer/drier, surely “flier” would be something that is more fly. Are black guys generally flier than white guys? ;)

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