It used to be Americans versus Brits. Now, it's easier.
A question I get a lot is how to spell “flyer” (or is that “flier”?), as in “I want to use my frequent flyer miles” and “We’re handing out flyers in the cafeteria today.”
In the past, style guides and dictionaries didn’t always agree about how it should be spelled, so it’s no surprise that people are confused.
The good news is that today, you’re safe using “flyer” for almost everything, maybe because the airline industry uses that spelling, and it’s hard to fight marketing.
Today, you’re safe using the “flyer” spelling for almost everything.
Here’s some background in case you’re interested in the history.
Is ‘Flier’ American? Is ‘Flyer’ British?
Supposedly, “flier” was the American spelling, and “flyer” was the British spelling. That’s what the most recent edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage claims, and that claim used to be backed up by the fact that the Associated Press (an American organization) recommended “flier,” and “The Economist” (a British publication) recommended “flyer.”
On the other hand, Webster’s Third (an American dictionary) says that the handbill is usually spelled “flyer,” and the Oxford English Dictionary (a dictionary with British roots) says that “flyer” is used in the United States to mean handbill. The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t directly address the question, but uses “flyer” in a couple of example sentences. A Google Books Ngram search shows that “flyer” is more common than “flier” in both British English and American English and that both spellings have coexisted since at least 1800.
The AP Stylebook Changes Its Recommendation
In 2017, The AP Stylebook updated its recommended spelling from “flier” to “flyer” in all cases except the phrase “to take a flier,” which means “to take a risk,” and that change makes it a lot easier for people to choose a spelling.
What Should You Do?
Even though “flyer” seems to be the strongly emerging standard, if you follow a specific style guide, it’s still a good idea to check if it has a recommended spelling, since both spellings do still coexist in the wild.
Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.”
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