Draught or Draft?

Nov 29 2012

There are few words that cause more angst to a marine publisher than the word that covers the following:
• A current of cool air
• To sketch or compose
• A dose of medicinal liquid
• A quantity of beer served from a cask
• An animal that pulls loads
• The depth of water needed to float a ship?

Obviously, its the word ‘draught’ . . . or is it? Maybe you’re just as convinced that the answer is ‘draft’.

While there are many differences in spelling between British and American English, the contrary (and seemingly firmly held) views about this particular small word got us researching into how the confusion began.

There is no doubt that ‘draught’ came first, with the earliest recording in English in about 1200. The root meaning is ‘to pull or drag’, which led to the wide variety in meanings; describing the action of drawing liquid into the mouth, pulling a wagon, dragging a writing implement across a surface and air being drawn in due to variances in temperature/pressure. The board game of draughts also took its name from the action of drawing the playing pieces across the board.

The change in spelling of ‘draught’ to ‘draft’ is first recorded circa 1500 and is believed to have been a change in pronunciation rather than a change in meaning. In 1828 the American lexicographer, Noah Webster, through the first edition of his ‘American Dictionary of the English Language’ proposed the removal of all silent letters and the regularisation of common sounds. This created a huge divide between American and British spelling and leads us to the current position where the spelling of draught/draft is largely a matter of nationality.

But one final point if you’re still wondering which version is actually correct. The only use of ‘draught’ in American English is in connection with draught beer. Here the English spelling is used to convey a sense of authenticity, quality and correctness. I arrest my case!!