Supersede v Supercede (Proof by Google)

I have recently shown that collectible v collectable is an English vs American English thing. I thought I’d try my hand at supercede – I mean supersede.  This is another word which dictionaries give two valid spellings for. However, running a google ngram search on their corpus shows supersede to be the clear preference:

Similar results are obtained whether or not the corpus is restricted to English or American English.  Yet another proof by Google….


8 Responses to “Supersede v Supercede (Proof by Google)”

  1. 1 Erasmus Scruff 4 August 2014 at 5:37 pm

    Speaking as a mathematician, it’s no proof at all. OED’s description of -cede as a “variant”, as described in your earlier blog post, is much more precise and a more elegant description. (Brute statistical usage is a silly measure: it would be like saying that English as spoken in the North of England– which is different from the Home Counties English people think of when they think of “British” or “Queen’s” English– is “wrong”. Using your logic, that conclusion would be reached because fewer people live in the North of England. In fact Northern usage is simply different, although just as ancient, because of the stronger influence of Old Norse versus Anglo-Saxon/Old English in its history. Example: until at least the 20th Century Yorkshiremen spoke of “rearing” children, a word derived from Old Norse. Londoners spoke of “raising” children and “rearing” animals– “raising” being the equivalent verb in Old English, and the enforced distinction between the two verbs being an ancient derogation of their northern neighbours dating back to the days of the Danegeld. Quite possibly if you did a Google search now,you might conclude that “rearing” children is incorrect usage… but this would be a false conclusion. English usage is a tree of variants, with geographical differences often having an historical basis, e.g. the differences between Queen’s English and American English.)

    Or in blunter terminology: Google n-grams are rubbish, or what the Irish would describe as “shite”, although Google would again assert this should have a different spelling…

  2. 2 brendanscott 4 August 2014 at 9:45 pm

    Your argument seems to be that there is no language called English.

    • 3 Erasmus Scruff 6 August 2014 at 11:01 am

      Hardly. My argument is that it is a language rich in regional variants, typically due to ancient historical influences. Which is why the OED treads carefully in dealing with alternative spellings. Linguistics are complex; simply throwing a Google n-gram at the problem simply tells you the most populated flavour of English, not whether one is “right” or “wrong”.

      As an example, using mere statistics such as a Google n-gram, American English’s variants would have been “wrong” across the latter 19th and half of the 20th Century, because the British Empire used the Queen’s English, which meant that a quarter of the world’s population, when they spoke English, used the Queen’s English spelling and grammar, so the users of the American flavour were in the minority. But to call that “wrong” would be silly.

      • 4 brendanscott 8 August 2014 at 11:57 pm

        The regional variants are “wrong”. That’s why they’re called “variants”. If you happen to be in the region, then you can say that the relevant variant is “right”.

        That, by the way, does _not_ appear to be relevant the case of cede vs sede.

  3. 5 David Steinway 28 October 2014 at 2:39 pm

    The impulse to use the ‘variant’ spelling may link to the logical association between the words ‘precede’, ‘antecede’, even ‘succeed’ (which by that token might be presumed to be best spelled ‘succede’ when referring to not accomplishment but succession). With ‘supercede’ they would make a sensible and easily remembered set. In fact now I’ve half a mind to start a movement to that end.. My apologies Mr Webster, but your efforts continue..

    • 6 Julie 8 January 2016 at 3:40 am

      I know this is an old thread, but it’s relevant to me in January, 2016. Unfortunately for me, we use this word every day in my new job. David Seinway’s reply that some people’s desire to spell supersede as supercede “… may link to the logical association between the words ‘precede’, ‘antecede’, even ‘succeed’” sounds like the logical explanation for the two spellings. My mind wants to spell supersede the same way it spells similar sounding words. The “s” just looks wrong to me, like a painting hanging crooked on a wall. It seems I’ve been spelling this word incorrectly all along. I had hoped the issue was British English vs. Amercan English so I justify continuing to spell superseded with a “c.”

  4. 7 best online english school 30 September 2016 at 10:17 pm

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  1. 1 Supercede v Supersede (Merriam Webster v OED) « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 21 February 2013 at 5:39 pm

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