Acclimate vs. Acclimatise

By Maeve Maddox

In my line of work, I’m used to comments that blame American speakers for usage that British speakers find annoying. For example:

How is it possible for Americans to create acclimate from acclimatise? The effect on me is far worse than hearing “math” or “off of”.

I share the commenter’s feelings regarding the redundant and ugly “off of,” as in “He fell off of the wagon” but fail to understand why math should bother him.

In the case of maths vs math, both are clippings of the “real” word mathematics. Unlike the ridiculous “open-mic,” which is presumably intended to be pronounced “open-mike,” both math and maths conform to English spelling conventions.

As for acclimate, the form is not an American creation. The earliest citation of acclimate in the Oxford English Dictionary—from a British printed source—is dated 1792.

The earliest OED citation for acclimatize (not acclimatise) is dated 1802.

Although acclimate is now labeled “chiefly US usage,” both forms have a long history in British English.

The Ngram Viewer set to “American English” indicates that acclimatize and acclimate were in about equal use until the 1970s, when acclimate began its rise.

Set to “British English,” the Ngram Viewer shows the two forms in equal use until the period of the American Civil War (1860s), when acclimatize gains ascendancy in British printed books.

Set to “English,” the Viewer shows acclimatize as the dominant form until the 1950s, when it begins to decline. The form acclimate overtakes acclimatize and surpasses it in frequency in the 1980s.

Of the spellings acclimatize and acclimatise, the former is more frequent, no matter which Ngram setting—“English,” “British English” or “American English”—is used.

The OED entry for the word is not treated like analyze, for example, with British analyse placed first and American analyze second. The only word in red for the entry in the OED is acclimatize. Oxford Dictionaries online acknowledges the s spelling with the note, “also acclimatise.” The Cambridge online dictionary headword is acclimatize, with a note in parentheses: (UK usually acclimatise).

A Google search brings up the following results:
“acclimate” 857,000
“acclimatize” 500,000
“acclimatise” 424,000

I am not advocating the use of acclimate over acclimatize. Although I am an American speaker, I rather think that acclimatize is the form I would use to talk about something or someone having to become accustomed to new conditions.

My intention is simply to point out that this so-called “Americanism” isn’t one.

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2 Responses to “Acclimate vs. Acclimatise”

  • venqax

    Wow! I’m hitting the orthoepy jackpot lately. Acclimate, American or not, is pronounced uh-KLY-muht, as in a tropical climate, notAK-luh-mayt. That, as it happens, is consistent with uh-KLY-muh-tyz, too. However, why the British are so found of orientating around elongatizing things is strange. Why drag out with -ises or -izes when they are unnecessitated? Is this case, it is not needed. Acclimate is not new at all.

  • Tzedekh

    No, the more common pronunciation of “acclimate,” and therefore arguably the “correct” one, is AK-luh-mate.

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