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Mic vs. mike

Both mike and mic commonly appear as shortened forms of microphone, but mike is the accepted spelling in most dictionaries. Mic presents difficulties because it looks like it should be pronounced mick and because it produces the problematic participles miced and micing. Miked and miking work better. Of course, however the word is spelled, it is a verb mainly in the phrase mic/mike up, meaning to put a mic on someone or something.

Examples

Mike


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Properly uniformed, Cos took the mike to philosophize and amuse. [Washington Post]

Williams response was fittingly a throw back to the 90s, as he shouted “shabba!” into the mike. [Guardian]

Seemed like every time they needed someone to say something articulate at the press conference, they handed the mike to you. [USA Today]

Mic

I remain partial to my own USB studio condenser mic from Samson, which I have been using for recording interviews and making Skype calls for several years. [Boston Globe]

Back behind the mic, no sister required [Independent Online]

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Comments

  1. What about past tense, Miked… .miced sounds terrible

  2. If mike is short for microphone, a noun, how can it have a past or present tense? Microphoned? Microphoning? These do not appear in any dictionary that I know. Grammatically this is a horrible mistake. The abbreviation should be mic and if you ever succeed in microphoning someone (and they are still alive), post the pictures on the internet in a FAIL compilation. That should be funny.

    • Grammarist says:

      “Mic” (or “mike”) definitely works as a verb, so it can have participles. As far as we know, “microphone” isn’t used in the verb sense, but its abbreviation is, which is sort of interesting. We should probably update this post soon to address this. The main verb sense is in the phrasal verb “mic up” (or “mike up”), meaning “to put something or someone on a microphone.” That this doesn’t appear in any of the dictionaries you checked doesn’t matter. As we’ve said elsewhere many times, we don’t rely on dictionaries for these things because they only record how words have been used in the past and are often many years behind current usage.

      Thank you for calling our attention to this post and reminding us we need to update it. We’ve also received several emails from people who are confused about the participles, so it’s obviously something we need to clarify.

      • I’ve always wondered if “mic” originated from its ubiquity on musical gear: when there’s a microphone input on a piece of gear, it is nearly always labeled (in all caps) as “MIC,” perhaps sometimes with a period to denote the abbreviation. So I’ve always regarded “mic” as an abbreviation for microphone, and I opt for “mike” in my writing because it feels like its own word, rather than an odd-looking abbreviation.

        Anyway, there is at least one dictionary that includes “mike” as a verb: the New Oxford American Dictionary — the built-in dictionary in Mac OS X. In fact they have everything: “mic” as a noun, “mike” as a noun, and “mike” as a verb.

        Sorry for all the colons.

    • Zenas Legisperitus says:

      You have it exactly backwards. It’s “mic” that is a mere abbreviation for microphone, whereas “mike” is a word in its own right derived from that abbreviation. Just look at the common (and phonetically inevitable) spelling “mic’d”– the apostrophe indicates omitted letters, essentially admitting that it’s a clumsy abbreviation of “microphoned.” “Miking” is easy to pronounce, but with “mic” we’re back to “mic’ing”– again, indicating an awkward abbreviation of “microphoning.”

      Also, the farther back you go in sources, the more exclusively you’ll see “mike,” which therefore has the better claim to “correctness.”

  3. dyingofpoetry says:

    How are the participles problematic? You merely add a “k”, as you would in “panicking” or “picnicking”. Obviously, Grammarist is just biased against “mic”, even though it makes more sense as an abbreviated form. By the way “grammarist” is isn’t really a word, so they shouldn’t be the authorities on orthography.

    • Grammarist says:

      They are problematic because some people will read “miced” and “micing” with an s sound instead of a k sound.

      A word is a short combination of spoken sounds (or letters representing sounds) that conveys a meaning.

    • “Mic” makes little sense, au contraire, as it’s usually confused with “mick.” True, context will make the meaning clear, but why confuse the reader at all? Putting an “e” at the end of “mike” keeps the pronunciation the same as “microphone.”

    • Zenas Legisperitus says:

      If you merely add a “k” you get “micking,” so the pronunciation problem remains.

      • dyingofpoetry says:

        English also has hundreds of words that are not spelled anywhere near phonetically, so keeping the long I is not actually a problem. I realize that that would apply as well to leaving the K off, but while English is rife with vowel exception (steak vs streak, but vs put, etc.), C is virtually always soft before I and E, so “micking” makes more sense than “micing”

  4. I work in the field of live event production, have done so for 15 years, and have a BA in Audio Engineering. I’ve never seen any industry professional (or even amateur for that matter) write the word “mike” in reference to a microphone. It is an abbreviation after all. It may be “mike” if you’re an English major, but if you handle a microphone more than once a week, it’s “mic”.

    • Stacy Smith Aannestad says:

      I heartily agree. As a writer who is also a musician, I would suggest using “mic” until one needs to change the tense, in which case switch to “miked” or “miking.” Readers are generally pretty smart, I think they’d figure out they were referencing the same root word.

    • Zenas Legisperitus says:

      I am a musician who works with recording equipment, and I write “mike” all the time.

  5. JackDaw91 says:

    Surprised at how many people miss the point in this debate. ‘Mic’ is used by professionals because of the way you label tracks while you’re recording. If you have a performer named Mike, it’s going to say so on the track. This can be confusing.

    In essence, it’s the same reason why newspaper reporters and editors say ‘hed’ instead of ‘headline’, ‘graf’ instead of (para)graph), and so on — to keep them from being confused with words that elong in the body of the text.

  6. I get that pros use it, and as pointed out, journalists write hed. Do we therefore write hedline in ordinary speech? Why don’t we try introducing bic for bic sharing? Makes as much sense.

  7. Erik Roy Tomren says:

    using “mike” is absurd, as folly said. I’m kind of shocked that this is a debate.. but anyway, my brother’s name is “Mike” and he also works in audio/video so I doubt I’m going to use “mike”.I’m still going to stick with “mic”, which is what I learned initially.

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