Waxing Judgmental about Judgement
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.)
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.
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