Waxing Judgmental about Judgement

By Maeve Maddox

A reader commenting on my post about the difference between discreet and discrete was shocked by the spelling judgement in my definition of discreet (“Showing discernment or judgement in the guidance of one’s own speech and action”):

Maeve, where did you find that definition of discreet?? “Judgment” is misspelled!

For that reader, spelling the word with an “e” creates a misspelling.

Other readers, commenting on other posts, objected to my use of judgment without the “e”:

The verb “change” keeps its [e] here to indicate that the [g] is soft, not hard. (That is also why “judgement” is the correct spelling of this word, no matter what anyone says.)

and

There isn’t a single instance in English that I can think of with a root word ending in “g” where “g” has the “j” sound. The final “e” is used to cue in the reader to the correct pronunciation of the soft “g” sound. Therefore, “judgment” according to the rules of English phonics would be “jud-GUH-ment”. Clearly WRONG!!…So I’ll continue to engage in pointless arguments with those who quibble with my CORRECT spelling of the word.

Strong feelings, these. Like “could care less” and statements like “my head literally exploded,” the “judgment vs judgement” issue evokes passion in many English speakers.

The first reader was correct to fault me on spelling judgment as judgement, not because judgement is a “misspelling,” but because I write these posts in standard American English and spelling judgment with an “e” is contrary to American spelling convention.

The other two readers do not indicate what standard dialect they speak. I’m guessing that they are American speakers because they resort to the argument about the “e” being necessary to the correct pronunciation of the word. British speakers would probably defend the judgement spelling simply on the grounds that it is the preferred British spelling.

The suggestion that the spelling judgment would “according to the rules of English phonics” produce the rendering “jud-GUH-ment” is preposterous. The word is formed by adding a suffix to the root word: judge+ment. Unlike the “e” we use to maintain the /j/ sound in words like rage, Marge, and usage, the “e” in judge is not necessary to signal a /j/ pronunciation.

The letter combination dge is a phonogram in its own right, used to represent the /j/ sound. Dropping the “e” from it is not common, but I cannot imagine that any native speaker would attempt to pronounce dg as anything but /j/.

Changeable does need the “e” to soften the “g”; judgment, abridgment, and lodgment do not. Look up judgement and lodgement in the OED and you will find the the spellings judgment and lodgment dignified as alternative spellings. (Abridgement is the only spelling given for that word.)

According to the OED,

[Judgement] is found in spellings with -dgm- from the early 16th century, and by the late 17th century judgment had become the prevailing spelling, although judgement was still commonly found. Kersey (1702) is an unusually early example of a dictionary in which the headword form was given as judgement . During the 19th century the form judgement gained in frequency in British contexts, and is now the usual spelling in general British use, but judgment has remained the standard spelling in British legal contexts when used to refer to a judicial decision, as well as in U.S. usage.

In sum, there’s no reason American speakers can’t choose to put an “e” in judgment if they wish, but there’s nothing historically, phonetically, or morally superior in doing so. And if they’re writing for publication, a U.S. editor would surely correct it.

Related posts:
Judgement or Judgment?
The Difference Between “Discreet” and “Discrete”

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3 Responses to “Waxing Judgmental about Judgement”

  • Denise

    I’m a US freelance copy editor working primarily with publishing houses but also with individual authors. Whether for presses or people, my default reference books are 16CMS (style and grammar) and Web11 (spelling, unless overridden by 16CMS 7.85, 7.80, etc.). Therefore, “judgment” is the preferred spelling per Webster’s.

  • Stephanie

    I’m an American, and I always struggled with the spelling of this word. I just naturally put the ‘e’ in there, but would always be corrected. To me, “judgment” just doesn’t look right.

    The Internet has made the world so much smaller now, and international conversation so much more common, I predict the two forms of English will slowly meld into one set of standards.

  • venqax

    Let’s take this foolishness apart piece by piece:

    “For that reader, spelling the word with an “e” creates a misspelling.”

    What THAT reader thinks— more rightly, believes– is worse than irrelevant. Judgment IS the standard American spelling, period. The End. Even if there were a rule to the E after the G situation cited, this would be an exception to it due to idiom. Again, the end.

    In the category of a little knowledgE being worse than none:

    “The verb “change” keeps its [e] here to indicate that the [g] is soft, not hard. (That is also why “judgement” is the correct spelling of this word, no matter what anyone says.)…The final “e” is used to cue in the reader to the correct pronunciation of the soft “g” sound.”

    This rule applies to Gs followed by vowels. Specifically, those preceding Es, Is, and Ys as opposed to As, Os, and Us. There is no such rule for Gs followed by any consonant apart from the normal L and R. (Cs work the same way, incidentally, which is worth pointing out to kertain self-sonscious kircles of “Keltics” out there). Sorry, but when an M follows a G, which rarely happens, there is no reliable cue based on that rule for the reader to follow.

    “Therefore, “judgment” according to the rules of English phonics would be “jud-GUH-ment”.”

    That is what is technically referred to as “wrong”. The rules of English, if anything, would say that judgment WOULD HAVE TO BE pronounced judz-ment exactly because judg-uh-ment, with a supposed schwaed vowel between the G and the M is completely unknown in English. By that fact, in fact, you are left with the argument that the E is superfluous, unnecessary because there is no way the word COULD be pronounced in English except with a soft G.

    Maeve: “Clearly WRONG!!” You are completely right that it’s wrong!

    “The suggestion that the spelling judgment would “according to the rules of English phonics” produce the rendering “jud-GUH-ment” is preposterous. The word is formed by adding a suffix to the root word: judge+ment. …The letter combination dge is a phonogram in its own right, used to represent the /j/ sound.”

    Yes! The best point of all! We don’t have a lonely G but a DG from DGE combo which is ALWAYS pronounced J.

    “ [Judgement] is found in spellings with -dgm- from the early 16th century, and by the late 17th century judgment had become the prevailing spelling.”

    Need she continue? Right about when WHERE was revving up? Once again, WHO went about violating the prevailing sense of the language and changing things? Pilgrims?

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