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Heighth

Heighth is a colloquial variant of height formed by analogy with similar measurement terms such as length, breadth, width, and depth, which end in th. Heighth might be considered incorrect in formal writing, and no dictionaries that we know of list it as a living word. Its use is a common peeve among people who consider themselves careful users of English.

But those who are peeved by heighth should go easier on it. It is not just a new colloquialism. It was in fact the Old and Middle English term for the quality of being high for many centuries (under various spellings) before height entered the language in the 16th century,1 and the newer form didn’t achieve its modern prevalence until the late 19th century.2

Plus, since so many measurement terms end in th, the much-maligned modern use of heighth is really just a normalization. We don’t have to consider it correct or use it ourselves, but its use is perfectly logical and is not a sign of low intelligence or illiteracy.

Examples

Here are a few examples of heighth used in current writing:

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West Virginia’s aggressive defense and heighth took over from there. [The Daily Athenaeum]

Nearly two feet of snow fell in New York City and winds blew at nearly 60 mph at John F. Kennedy International Airport at the heighth of the storm. [Omaha World-Herald]

They’re not incredibly tall; they’re like us heighth-wise, so it should be a pretty good matchup. [Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier]

In our searches, heighth appears most often in sportswriting. And in our own experience, use of the the word seems endemic in TV sports commentary.

Sources

1. Height and heighth in the OED (subscription required)
2. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology

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Comments

  1. Sue Matheson says:

    Also in “Catcher in the Rye” by JD Salinger! “I can usually get them on account of my heighth (the last page or two of chapter 8). I like to harass my husband for using “heighth” instead of “height”….I’ll have to decide whether or not to show him this article. :)

  2. So we should also be allowed to use “weighth”?

    • Grammarist says:

      I would say that depends on what you mean by “allowed.”

    • Show me when and where “weighth” used to be in common usage. Oops, that never happened. Yet, when describing the common three dimensional measurements of an object, we have either: width, length, and heighth- or width, length, and height. Weight is not usually used to describe the volume of an object, is it? No, it is not. Your argument adds up as well as arguing for “lengt.”

      • No, dear. Height ends with T. Long (length), Wide (width) and Deep (depth) do not. Weight also ends with T. Do you see the connection? I am guessing you do not. lol

      • Cindy Stokes says:

        Are you sure? We have “eighth” Are you an historical linguist?

        • SenatorKang says:

          I don’t have to be a historical linguist to challenge anyone to disprove me by showing me a single citation in any of all the dictionaries and records that exist. I challenge anyone to show me where it is listed (besides on this page) as a word. Same with the claim that “Heighth” is a colloquialism, and not simply an error.

          Where and when were these words common? The page states, clearly, that “heighth” is not listed in any dictionary, even an unabridged one, so… it’s not a word.

          Perhaps it’s a pidgin word in a language known as Errorish? Yep.

  3. David R. says:

    “Heighth” may well be more logical but it’s quite clear that most users of the word aren’t using it because they’ve thought about the alternatives and decided it’s better.

    Also, your example from the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier doesn’t really count as “current writing” since it’s in direct speech.

  4. O puhleeze.

  5. collmyers says:

    My parents use the word heighth, which is why I looked it up; they consider themselves users of proper English. Since they’re in their 60’s, and been most likely saying it their entire lives, I guess I don’t have the heart to correct them! But on the other hand, I kinda want to, because they don’t hesitate to correct others on their grammar. Hmmm…

  6. I read it more than once in A Clockwork Orange, so I was wondering whether it was an old English term, or if it was another Burgess term.

  7. Nope, still think it’s annoying and still pick on my husband for saying it.

  8. Cindy Stokes says:

    The older form is “heighth” (or “highth.”) wide –> width, long –> length, high –> h(e)ighth, deep –> depth. I grew up thinking it was “heighth” and never got corrected on papers. (I’m 47. Pre-spellcheck.) I’m assuming I spelled it that way because I do a lot of reading of old books and did even as a child. It now write and edit professionally and it makes my eye twitch every time I have to spell it “height.” I have a bachelor’s of linguistics and I enjoy predictable linguistic rules. I think the reader who mentioned weight not being “weighth” is on the right track. It’s not in the same family as heighth, which is noun made out of an adjective, (Weight is formed from a verb, “weigh.”) but as a culture, we fill in so many forms that ask height and weight, I imagine the shift was to line up with weight.

  9. Gina Stevens says:

    …but saying axe instead of ask is seen as ignorant when it’s not? Many people pronounce ask as axe due to a lost dialect. Many Americans can’t roll their Rs when trying to speak Spanish, but we’re not seen as ignorant. I find there is a double standard going on with not being able to pronounce certain words correctly.

  10. Gina Stevens says:

    Neither heighth or acrost should be acceptable in any form.

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