Why are people still saying 'spicket' instead of 'spigot'?
September 29, 2015 1:41 PM   Subscribe

I've said and written 'spicket' my entire life and only this morning discovered it was non-standard. Some dictionaries give a cursory redirect to 'spigot'; some don't even list the 'ck' variant. The apparent root of 'spigot' [Latin spica] would seem to obviate this discussion, but the change from /k/ to /g/ had taken place at least by 1590 (both forms co-existed for a while). When did 'spicket' become non-standard, and why has that /k/ persisted to the present day?

My research:
-Historical instances of 'spicket' and 'spigot'
-An American map showing no correlation between region and word usage.
-A Note on 'Spigot' and 'Spicket' (1948) by William Edgerton [first page only - full download behind a paywall]
-Anecdata: My family lineage is Swiss via the Alsace-Lorraine region (immigrated to the US around 1850). My grandparents always said 'spicket' but it wasn't a word that was ever written down, so it could have been a weird pronunciation quirk.
posted by smokysunday to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've never known "spicket" to ever be anything other than a misspelling by people who have never read the word before. Spigot and spicket are both cromulent pronunciations of spigot but, at least in my experience, only the word spigot exists.

For some anecdata, my parents grew up about 40 minutes apart from one another in southern Indiana, my mom in a town of reasonable size and my dad on a farm. My mom says spigot and my dad says spicket. My grandmother, mom's mom, says spicket, despite having grown up in the same town of reasonable size that my mom did. I say spigot and have always only said spigot. My brother says spicket.

There may be some sort of regional aspect to it but I think it may have more to do with personal preference/how often a person actually uses the word in how they pronounce it. I use the word spigot maybe a handful of times per year. My brother uses it closer to a handful of times a week. Spicket rolls off the tongue easier. Expediency rules the day. (Which is to say, spicket persists because that's just how the word sounds when you say it fast.)
posted by phunniemee at 1:54 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

For the maps, if you look here there's a heat map version of the same map you posted (credit Joshua Katz; Bert Vaux assembled the original maps). There are very faint "spicket" pockets in central PA and WV .

Note that the distinction between spigot/spicket is going to be very subtle in pronunciation-- they only differ in what's called voicing, which is whether or not the vocal folds are vibrating, and a /k/ between two vowels is more likely to be slightly voiced/become voiced over time (since it's actually quite hard to start your vocal folds for the vowel, stop them completely for the voiceless /k/, and then restart them), in a process called lenition.
posted by damayanti at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

Maybe a mispronunciation became an "accepted" spelling?
posted by kuanes at 2:13 PM on September 29, 2015

damayanti is correct. This is a simple matter of pronunciation and dialect and has nothing to do with either "mispronunciation" or spelling (in official spelling, there is only one word, spigot, just as there is only one spelled word economics regardless of whether you say "ee-" or "eh-")
posted by languagehat at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

The Dictionary of American Regional English has an extensive entry on the word. Its data show that "spicket" is far more common east of the Mississippi, but a key point to take away is that even just "spigot" with the correct spelling and the more usual pronunciation is far more common in the Appalachians, and in the Middle and Central Atlantic states. The rest of the country is far more likely to say "faucet" or "tap." So even "spigot" itself is part of dialect usage.

I downloaded and looked at the Edgerton article. It's anecdotal and doesn't add much to this conversation.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:55 PM on September 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I suspect there's more to it than the explanations given so far. There are multitudes of words that use one or the other of the voiced/unvoiced [g/k] pair of phonemes, but nobody calls a 'bigot' a 'bicket', or a 'picket' a 'pigot'.

Old English 'spica' evolved into modern "spigot" and "spike". "Spicket" seems like a case of parallel pronunciations surviving. To damayanti's informative point - can this really be lenition if the /k/ was there from the beginning?
posted by smokysunday at 11:01 AM on September 30, 2015

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