We talk about length and width—why not heighth?
I collected every tweet between February 8 and March 17 that included the word heighth and I noticed something funny: I collected a total of 254 tweets, but 137 of those tweets are from people complaining that heighth isn’t a word or talking about how it’s a usage problem. Yes, more people were complaining about other people using the word heighth than there were people actually using the word.
It’s not really a fair comparison because Twitter is just one community, of course; it doesn’t represent all conversations in the world. And some of the complaining tweeters seem to be reacting to people in other spheres. For example, in some cases it looks like someone said “heighth” on TV and then people took to Twitter to complain about it, and in other cases, people were annoyed by a teacher or boss who said “heighth,” and then they came to Twitter to complain.
I understand why people would be confused. We talk about length and width—why not heighth? I can’t tell you why height doesn’t follow the pattern; all I can tell you is that height is the correct word.
I was surprised to find that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) does include highth as a spelling in the height entry and has multiple example sentences that use it from the late 1500s through the 1800s. Garner’s Modern American Usage and the OED both note that heighth and highth were part of a common dialect spoken in southern England during those centuries, so that explains the presence of the alternate spellings in the example sentences. It sounds as if northerners always used height, and eventually height became the standard spelling and pronunciation.
Garner says heighth has reached stage 2 of language change, which he equates with the mannerly equivalent of making an audible belch, and I can’t recommend doing that in public.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock,
“height | highth.” Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. http://0-www.oed.com.innopac.
Garner, B. “height.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, third edition. Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 417.