Barbecue vs. Barbeque
We all have our lists of language peeves. Most likely, no two of our lists are the same.
The reader whose email prompted this post can’t stand the spelling barbeque:
One of my pet hates (I have more than a few) is “barbeque”. When I hear that this spelling…has entered into common usage I become uncommonly angry. I have entered it into the NGram and [discovered] the wrong spelling has gradually gained ground and the right spelling is declining. Is this the future of language?
I can sympathize with the pain a fellow language lover feels when faced with one of his peeves, but I have to admit that barbeque doesn’t even register as a “one” on my scale of linguistic suffering.
I grew up in a town in which the places specializing in this type of cooking spell it Bar-B-Q on their signs and BBQ on their menus. Barbeque looks fine to me.
The first glimmer of barbeque on the Ngram Viewer shows in 1893. BBQ is there as early as 1889. Barbeque begins its rise in the 1960s; BBQ in the 1970s. Barbecue, however, remains far and away the most common spelling in printed books.
Something that may have contributed to the popularization of the barbeque spelling could be a false etymology that once made the rounds on the Web and may pre-date email hoaxes. According to this creative explanation, the word derives from a French practice of roasting a goat whole, “from beard to tail,” i.e., “barbe (beard) à (to) queue (tail).
In fact, barbecue entered English as a borrowing from Spanish barbacoa. The word went through various spelling permutations before settling down to the standard spelling of barbecue. The OED shows spellings documented at different dates:
In his diaries, George Washington (1732-1799) spelled it both Barbicue and Barbecue.
The Spanish got the word from the Arawakan word barbakoa, “framework of sticks.” This was a raised wood structure that served two functions for the Indians: 1. to sleep on; 2. to cure meat on.
The meaning “an outdoor meal of roasted meat or fish as a social entertainment” is from 1733. The meaning “a grill for cooking over an open fire” dates from 1931.
The verb “to barbecue” has been in use since 1690, but its first meaning was “to dry or cure meat.” Now it means “to broil or roast.”
A Google search brings up more hits for barbecue, but barbeque is not far behind:
Bottom line: The standard spelling is barbecue, but barbeque is a recognized North American variant.
British speakers, including Australians, are advised to stick to barbecue, but Americans and Canadians have the option to spell it either way: Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English both list barbeque without prejudice.
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