Jail versus gaol

A SPELLING mistake is enough to cause a week of sleepless nights for those in the publishing business.

When I was a guest speaker at a Rotary lunch this week, one couple was quick to get in my ear about The Daily Examiner's spelling of jail.

Educated in Scotland, the "gaol" spelling was never floated as an option. To me, it's dangerously close to "goal" but it seems a great many of our readers reject "Americanisms" creeping into our good Aussie English.

In coming weeks, we'll be exploring the future of Grafton Correctional Facility, a title which in its entirety doesn't lend itself well to a headline.

So we decided it was time to publish the debate in these pages and ask you, our readers, what you think.

Ultimately the youth will be charged with carrying our language torch forward into the future and so 95 English History pupils at Grafton High School took part in our spelling bee.

Principal Peter South, who admitted he and the English head teacher preferred "jail" as a spelling, said 76% of pupils surveyed also opted for the modern version.

"The students were all opinionated," he said.

"In a straw poll out of 95, 72 students said 'jail' and 23 said 'gaol'.

"Interestingly, we had an exchange student from Germany who said at his German school, students were taught to spell it 'jail'.

"But 24% clung to the 'gaol' spelling."


For gaol

AS A retired librarian and language enthusiast, Jill Enks is more than qualified to enter into today's great jail/gaol debate.

She and her husband Warren are scathing spelling critics and made no bones about telling The Daily Examiner why "gaol" was the correct way to write the word.

"We were taught that way at school and jail is an Americanism," Mrs Enks said.

"I do like to see good spelling as I think it's polite to use communication everyone understands."

She is supported in her stance by Mr Enks.

"People spell by sight and don't associate 'jail' with that," he said.

"It glares at you that it's horribly wrong."


For jail

THE Daily Examiner's parent company is APN and the group's style guru, Graeme Wilson, shared his theory on the "jail versus gaol" debate.

"When it comes to different options for spelling, we can argue for hours about popular usage, the credibility of various dictionaries, the sanctity of the rules of grammar - and our own ingrained preferences based on a lifetime's habit - but ultimately a newspaper has to decide on how it spells a particular word," he said.

"This has not been done to discourage individuality among our journalists, but to establish a consistency and uniformity for our readers.

"We have chosen "jail" because we believe it's clearly the most common choice of spelling in Australia.

"When in doubt at APN, we take guidance from the Macquarie Dictionary - nationally and internationally regarded as the standard reference on Australian English. According to Macquarie, the preferred spelling is 'jail', and the dictionary states: 'In general the spelling of this word has shifted in Australian English from gaol to jail. However, gaol remains fossilised in the names of jails, as Parramatta Gaol, and in some government usage.'

"We don't like the idea of being "fossilised" so have chosen to move with the times."


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