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'Whisky' or 'Whiskey'?

"Whiskey" or "whisky"? It depends on the country.

By
Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read
Eire written on a hillside with an arrow pointing to the E
The Quick And Dirty

The Irish spell it "whiskey."

The Scottish spell it "whisky."

Have you ever noticed that Irish whiskey and Scottish whisky are spelled differently?

If you look at a bottle of Jameson whiskey, which is made in Ireland, it’s spelled W-H-I-S-K-E-Y (with an “-ey” on the end); and if you look at a bottle of Chivas Regal, which is made in Scotland, it’s spelled W-H-I-S-K-Y (with just a “-y” on the end).

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest uses of the word are from the early 1700s, and because spelling wasn’t as standardized back then, you can see both modern spellings and other ones including “whiskee” and “whiskie.”

“Whiskey” is short for the Gaelic “whiskeybae” or the older “uisgebeatha,” which translates to “water of life.”

The consistent spelling difference between Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky didn’t become a thing until the 1800s. American whiskey-makers follow the Irish spelling, so if a whiskey is made in the United States, it should be spelled with an “-ey” on the end, but other countries follow the Scottish spelling. Australian whisky, Canadian whisky, and Japanese whisky, for example, are all spelled with just a “-y” on the end.

What is Scotch?

And in case you are wondering about a drink called “Scotch,” that’s whisky too—it’s whisky from Scotland. It’s just short for “Scotch whisky.”

Remember the spelling by thinking of Éire

As is often the case, I couldn’t find any particular reason the spellings became different in different countries, but this St. Patrick’s Day, if you want to remember that Irish whiskey is spelled with an “-ey,” you can think of the E as being associated with Éire, the Irish name for Ireland.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show.

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