What is the fete of our fayre language?

Related Topics
How many words can you think of in English which have two different spellings, both of them correct? I say this because my wife came back from the Midlands the other day and said, "I've brought a present back from Birmingham for you. It's a new combination of words I saw outside a restaurant. Look, I've written it down for you."

And she handed me a bit of paper on which was written the words "Balti Fayre".

"Nice one!" I exclaimed.

This was because she and I have been observing in an unsystematic way the evolution of the spelling of "fair" and "fare". Although they both sound exactly the same, their spelling did at least ensure that you could spot the difference on the page. "Fair" meant a festive occasion or market gathering. "Fare" meant what was on the menu. Fun fair was a fete, but fun fare was jolly things to eat.

Then people who organised school fetes got a bit mock-medieval and jovial and started putting up notices saying "Summer Fayre" or "School Fayre", which was no better or worse than calling things "ye olde" this and that. It may well be that in the old days "fair" was genuinely spelt "fayre", but it always looked a bit ye olde heritage to me, a bit touristy. Mark you, I always preferred the nice old word "fete" to the word "fair", but perhaps "fete" was getting a bit past its effective date.

Then the inevitable happened. People started spelling "fare" as "fayre" as well, and you started getting scrolly menus headed "Bill of fayre", and I am damned if "fare" was ever spelt "fayre", but after 15 years of education under the Tories the country is now full of people who think they can spell "fare" as "fayre".

And now it has got even worse, because immigrants who run Balti restaurants have fallen into the trap of the English and started spelling "fare" as "fayre". "Balti fayre", indeed! For years I thought that Balti restaurants were actually Baltic restaurants with the "c" fallen off, and although I reluctantly don't believe that any more, I still don't really believe there is such an authentic thing as Balti cooking and I don't believe there is a spelling "fayre", and I say the hell with it.

On the other hand, I also think that the revival of the spelling "fayre" is interesting because it shows that people can spell the same word in two different ways and not worry about it. This is completely contrary to what I was taught at school. I was always told at school that although in Shakespeare's day spelling was very fluid - you could spell things more or less as you wanted to then - nowadays spelling has completely solidified and there is only one right way of spelling anything. This is baloney, or maybe even boloney. I can't bring you a long list of words that can be spelt two different ways, but I can bring you a short list of them, and I can also bring you one word that can be spelt three different ways in English, all of which are correct.

I will give you till the end of the piece to think of it.

Now, some of these double spellings are quite obvious, being American variants, like "defense" for "defence" and "color" for "colour", so we will omit those. Perhaps we will also omit "pedlar" and "peddler". We can also omit names which are spelt two different ways, such as Frances and Francis or Miles and Myles and Smith and Smythe. But I can remember trainspotting at Gresford Station near Wrexham in the late 1940s (comme c'est loin, tout ca) and being mesmerised by a sign which said "Tickets must be shewn at entrance to platform". Shewn? Not shown? No, shewn, and perfectly legitimate, if the GWR authorised (or authorized) it.

I can remember that my Dad was in the army in the War in the regiment called the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Not Welsh, but Welch.

There are several older spellings which still knock around in the language, perhaps in book titles (The Compleat Angler) or in ancient titles ("Master of the Queen's Musick"). But there are modern spellings which seem to be acceptable as alternatives. I would draw to your attention, members of the jury, the fact that we have never made up our minds completely whether to spell all right as "all right" or "alright". That we can spell prison as "gaol" or "jail".

But above all that there is one word in English which we can spell three different ways.

It is Hello.

Or Hallo.

Or Hullo.

If any readers have examples which I have blindly overlooked, I would be happy to pass them on.

This has been an election-free zone.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London