Aisle and Isle
When I came across this use of the word isle on a parenting site, I couldn’t help wondering how common the error might be:
…many people share beliefs from one end of the isle, and some from the other.
The context was an item about teaching children about differing political views without prejudicing them against “right” or “left.” The writer’s use of the word “isle” refers to the seating arrangements in the U.S. in which national representatives and senators sit according to party affiliation.
In the U. S. House of Representatives, members of the Democratic Party sit to the Speaker’s right and members of the Republican Party sit to the Speaker’s left. A wide central aisle divides the well of the House.
In the U. S. Senate, Democratic senators sit to the presiding officer’s right, and Republican senators sit to the presiding officer’s left. Metaphorically speaking, one’s political opinions can be said to belong to “one side of the aisle” or the other.
A Google search for “one side of the isle” brought up nearly seven million hits. Many of them were used in reference to small islands, like the Isle of Man, but a dismaying number of links led to texts in which isle occurred in a context that called for aisle.
Many were being used in a political context:
In the political space there are tons of examples that highlight this issue and they are often controversial. As I said they don’t reside on one side of the isle.
Shy of a few misguided Republicans I think the blame for this debacle will lie 99% with one side of the isle.
Where does each side of the isle stand on foreign aid?
Other examples occurred in literal contexts in which the meaning was “passageway between seats or shelves” and not “small island or island-like structure”:
If you are in a supermarket stand in the middle of the isle and stare at the products on one side of the isle… (leadership training exercise)
This [Amtrak] car offers what we call 2 & 1 seating, where there are two seat [sic] on one side of the isle and one seat on the other side.
Perhaps, the most memorable scene of perplexing symbolism follows Alice, with a shovel against her shoulder, and Luc through the toy isle of a supermarket. On one side of the isle, Alice is staring at Barbie dolls… (movie review)
A little boy was part of his aunt’s wedding party. As he was coming down the isle during the ceremony… (lead-in to a joke in which “isle” is used for “aisle” four times in six sentences)
Isle derives from Latin insula, “island.” When it came into English in the late 13th century, the word was spelled ile. Aisle derives from a word meaning “wing.” (Old French ele, Modern French aile.) The s was “restored” to the English word ile in the late 1500s. By then, ile and ele/aile had become confused, “perhaps from a notion of a “detached” part of a church” (Online Etymology Dictionary), so an s found its way into aisle to match isle.
Both aisle and isle are pronounced [īl].
Browse all articles on the Misused Words category or check the recommended content for you below:
Improve your English in 5 minutes a day! Subscribe to our Writing Tips and Exercises via Email
- You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!
- Subscribers get access to our archives with 800+ interactive exercises!
- You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!