"Judgment" or "Judgement"?


In America, "judgment" remains the sharply dominant spelling, by a factor of more than 10 to 1. The divide was even greater before about 2010:

(The graph shows the ratio of uses of "judgement" divided by the uses of "judgment," and it's under 10%.) The divide is likewise stark in American legal sources; a quick Westlaw search over the last week reported 2800 cases mentioning "judgment" and 72 "judgement."

Curiously, in England, "judgement" has recently become a pretty common variant, being used for a few decades at at least half the rate of "judgment" (so that, of uses of both, a third are with the extra "e").

I suspect that makes both standard in normal British English (I can't speak to British legalese), much as "grey" and "gray" are both standard equivalents. But that's only in Britain; in America, "judgment," unusually spelled as it may be, is the dominant form, and using the spelling "judgement" is particularly likely to be seen as a mistake.

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  1. I guess Americans are more judgmental.

  2. Seeing an available distinction just lying around, I suggest putting it to work. Make, “judgment,” the cognitive faculty which gauges stuff in everyday experience. Make, “judgement,” the thing a court hands down.

    1. Why would we want to do that?

      Part of the beauty of language is that context works alongside verbiage. This gets pedants and prescriptivists mad- but pedants and prescriptivists are immature and overly rigid sorts who can’t appreciate what a wonderful thing linguistic flexibility is.

      I love the idea we have two correct spellings for a single word that mean the same thing. The last thing we want is a distinction. Context supplies the distinction.

      1. “Why would we want to do that?”

        To make sure it’s clear that they’re two unrelated concepts.

        1. I would ask a slightly different question from Dilan’s: How could we possibly expect that people will draw a distinction, just because a few commenters on a blog thought it up? This isn’t like a programming language, where the designers can make clear that = and == mean two different things (though Lord knows how much confusion that has nonetheless caused!). If most users of English currently don’t differentiate judgment from judgement (except, in the case of some people, to assume that the latter is a mistake), it seems quite unlikely that we could just get them to start differentiating the two.

          1. My response to Dilan was tongue-in-cheek, but I guess the answer is to do whatever the feminists did with sex and gender.

            But I agree that it shouldn’t be easy to make such an artificial distinction.

            1. “My response to Dilan was tongue-in-cheek, but I guess the answer is to do whatever the feminists did with sex and gender.”

              Easy. Sex is a verb and gender is a noun.

              1. Er… ‘sex’ is definitely both a noun and a verb. When you sex a skeleton, you’re determining what sex it is. (There’s an unusual version of sex as a verb for you, as well as a valid use of sex as a noun).

                More importantly, gender might be a noun, but its a feature of languages, not people.

                1. ” When you sex a skeleton, you’re determining what sex it is.”

                  When you sex a skeleton, ewwww!

                  Hint: This joke might not have connected for you.

          2. “I would ask a slightly different question from Dilan’s: How could we possibly expect that people will draw a distinction, just because a few commenters on a blog thought it up?”

            ALL meaning of language comes from how people use the words.

        2. Great. Let’s be thorough, though.

          Decisione. Don’t want to confuse restaurant choice with guilt or innocence.

          Verdicte. Heaven forbid a game show be mistaken for a highe ande mightye courte.

          Lawe. Can’t have parents laying down the legal stuff to their grounded kids.

          Courte. Surely no one wants triales compared to romanc.

      2. Distinguish meanings for these two in context Dilan: “unionized” and “unionized.” The context: they both appeared in the same paragraph of a high-tech company annual report. One of them might better have appeared, “un-ionized.”

        Here is another, more likely to trouble almost anyone:

        12 AM
        12 PM

        Which one properly refers to noon?

        It’s a trick question. Hint, if you know the secret, you will have at least a chance to answer correctly, otherwise not. So here’s the secret: “12 M.”

        By the way, if you use that “12 M,” correctly, almost everyone will blame you for an error, except for unusually elderly graduates of West Point. So never use it.

        We need all the help we can get.

        1. I asked someone once about a contract he had which specified start and stop times of 0001 and 2359. Why not 0000 and 2400? Because some people were confused about which day was involved; is 2359 Thursday + 1 minute 2400 Thursday or Friday? Ought to be 2400 Thursday AND 0000 Friday, in that context of 2359 + 1; but what if you see it in a contract by itself? Ought to be obvious, but it’s not, for the same reason people sometimes call 0200 Friday as Thursday night 2 AM or Friday morning 2 AM.

          English as she is spoke depends a lot more on context than most people realize.

        2. Why does that bother you, Stephen? There’s no reason language needs to be perfectly precise. We aren’t computers. We can supply context to each other. Or not. There is beauty in ambiguity too.

          You desperately want to change how language works. It’s like disliking gravity.

          1. It bothers the hell out of me not to be able to tell whether people are referring to noon or midnight when they write “12 p.m.”

            1. Tell them to write “12 midnight” or “12 noon”, depending on which one they actually mean.

          2. Dilan, there are reasons language needs to be perfectly precise. Very good ones. Perhaps you do not encounter them.

            For instance, communications between proofreaders and clients, or copy editors and clients, require clarity about time. Even more so, communications between commanding generals and their subordinates about to execute a coordinated attack. I first took note of the 12 M usage while reading Grant’s memoirs.

          3. ” It’s like disliking gravity.”

            There’s nothing wrong with disliking gravity, I do this every time I spill my drink (knowing full well that it was gravity keeping it in the cup in the first place.)

        3. It’s a trick question all right, but the correct answer is “12 noon”, not “12 M”. What makes the correct answer correct is that it accurately conveys the intended message to the audience, whereas the proposed solution “12 M” is likely to be interpreted as a typo, and does not convey the intended message to the audience.

          1. James, yeah, that’s what I said, at least about the typo. Perhaps I should mention, however, that the first time I encountered, “12 M,” I recognized it was exceptional, but grasped immediately that it was not an error, and what the point of doing it had been.
            The utility of doing it that way in a military order was obvious. Other contexts might make it less so.

            So I am not now proposing anything. It was done, and now gone. But it was a standard usage—at least in the U.S. military prior to the 24-hour clock solution. How far recognition of the standard might have extended beyond the military, I have no idea.

            Of course, when you are saying in effect, “12 Meridian,” you highlight the problem of ambiguity between, “Ante Meridian,” and “Post Meridian,” which might both point to the same midnight moment, but in reference to different days—or might be otherwise intended by some to refer to noon and midnight respectively, but with no clue which to respect for which use. That could bother you, or it could please you, as a poetically perfect recognition of what the concept of midnight accomplishes as a divider of days.

            Your, “12 Noon,” solution still leaves the AM/PM problem ambiguous. By the way, would you suggest AN/PN? I think it is remarkable how resistant a dilemma this one is.

            1. “Your ’12 Noon’ solution still leaves the AM/PM problem ambiguous.”

              No it doesn’t, both 12 AM and 12 PM are incorrect references to 12:00 in the middle of the day (and 12:00 in the middle of the night, for that matter.)
              It’s not actually complicated unless you insist on making it that way. “A.M.” refers to the period between midnight and noon, and “P.M.” refers to the period between noon and midnight. The two boundary markers are not included in either range. 12 noon is the one with the sun in the sky and 12 midnight is the one with no sun in the sky (unless you happen to be at one of Earth’s poles, which can have noons with no sun in the sky and midnights with a sun that hasn’t set and won’t for a couple of weeks.

  3. Interesting, I would have guessed ‘judgement’ the standard form, though my spell-checker does accept both.

    Something I find particularly interesting, it accepts ‘misjudgment’ but not ‘misjudgement’.

  4. I’d just make a point of dropping a footnote* when you use the alternative.

    *”I meant to spell it this way.”

    [Judges (I mean, judgs) love footnotes like that.]

    1. Would the footnote continue “I am a non-conformist, but only as to issues that do not matter; you may rely on my strict adherence to established canons in my substantive advocacy”?

    2. Sic! Totally sic!

      What a sic person!

      (Well it is the theme of the post 😉

  5. It’s a judgment if the criminal gets jugged.

  6. I graduated from Law School in 1968, and I was taught for three years that it’s judgment, not judgement, so that must be right. On the other hand, the degree I received was an LLB not a JD, so maybe the Law School wasn’t so smart after all.

  7. I don’t think I ever saw it spelled “judgment” until I went to law school (1989).

    1. captcrisis: I wonder whether you might be misremembering; looking at Google Ngrams for good judgement/good judgment — which seems to capture mostly nonlegalese uses — tells us that well over 80% of all references were to “good judgment,” even in the 1970s and 1980s, when “judgement” was becoming more common.

      1. I suppose it was just the times changing then. Though before I went to law school I was in human services and reading mostly non-published materials where the word was often used. I preferred “judgment” myself. Shorter is better.

        It was one of those squishy words, like “aging” vs. “ageing”.

      2. Professor, maybe this will sound crazy.

        But I was taught way back when in elementary school you use ‘judgement’ when it is something formal like “rendering judgement” or a “judgement” (or a formal document) was delivered to someone. And one would use ‘judgment’ when it pertains to an individual, or individual actions. Example below.

        Moses rendered judgement, and the Amalekites were annihilated.
        Seeing this, the Moabites left Israel alone, exercising good judgment.

        1. Well, if this was in the U.S., I think your teacher led you astray. But perhaps, judging from the Biblical examples, the teacher was influenced by some particular editions of the Bible, which do seem to generally use “judgement” more than “judgment,” see biblehub.com.

  8. Unless you’re in FAR North America — that is to say, in Canada — it’s “judgment.” Any lawyer who misspells this word will find knowledgeable colleagues, clients, and judges unimpressed. Moreover: the whole comprises its parts, it isn’t “comprised of” its parts. And you want a judge who’s interested (paying attention) and disinterested (fair); if he’s not paying attention, he’s uninterested, not “disinterested.” Finally, Oxford commas are mandatory. Now excuse me while I go chase those illiterate kids off my lawn.

    1. Exactly.

      Also, in case more authority was needed, it’s “T2: Judgment Day”.

      1. As if we could take Skynet’s word for it.

    2. Preach on, Brother Beldar!

      We had a similar dust-up a few weeks back about flaunt/flout.

      Another one that comes up a lot is people using “enormity” simply to refer to large size, without any (evil) moral component.

      And before anyone starts accusing me of being a rigid pedant, the reason these things chap my ass is that these mistakes are made by people trying to show off by using fancy words, when simpler and clearer constructions are readily available.

      1. Yet you’re probably using ‘anticipate’ to mean ‘expect’…

  9. So, the spelling became standardized well before the Civil war.

    It appears we’re looking at a graph of the decline in the competency of teaching spelling.

  10. Only judgement looks right; I hate it that people think it’s misspelled. Idk why, but judgment looks so wrong to me. Weird pet peeve of mine.

    1. Weird pet peeve of mine.

      Still wrong. This earns you no exemption.

  11. My understanding of the British rule (having asked a number of times in conversation with law people) is exactly the opposite of what Stephen Latrop suggested: judgment is what a court hands down, judgement is what the court applies in order to write that judgment.

    1. PS my original tendency, as a non-native speaker, was to write judgement. To my eye judgment is too many consonants piled together.

      1. A lot of native-speakers also want to make the word by starting with “judge” and then just tacking on the suffix “ment”, instead of learning how to spell the word. It’s an attempt to do spelling by algorithm instead of by brute force memorization.

        1. It turns out “judgement” is the original version, from when the word was first used in English in the 13th century: https://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/judgment-or-judgement

          1. You source says we got the word from the French, and they spell lots of words funny.

        2. That would be because spelling words by algorithm is superior to brute force memorization. Learning systems abstractly and being able to apply them is vastly superior to rote memorization of individual facts. (In fact, this tendency of our education system to default to teaching facts rather than systems is a significant problem – I work with high school students, I see they have trouble putting facts together in a coherent way, because they’ve been taught all their life that they just need to recite facts, not figure out how they work together).

  12. Once upon a time, around 7th grade (so, in the 1970’s) I got the word “judgment” in a spelling bee, and I haven’t forgotten how to spell the word ever since. Must’ve been around 15 people who wanted two “e”‘s to be in the word.

  13. Once we sort out the difference between “judgment” and “judgement”, can we start to work out the difference between “flammable” and “inflammable”?

  14. This makes sense to me: https://www.macmillandictionaryblog.com/judgment-or-judgement

    There are two ways of spelling the noun that is the topic of this post: judgment and judgement. But which should you use, or doesn’t it matter? Macmillan Dictionary gives the main form as judgment, with judgement as a variant spelling in both the British and American versions. This reflects the data, both in a large corpus of contemporary English, and in the huge real-world corpus that is the World Wide Web. In both, judgment outnumbers judgement: by more than two to one in the real world and by almost four to one in the corpus. (The proportions are similar for the much less frequent adjective judg(e)mental). American English generally prefers the spelling judgment.
    In British English the picture is more complicated, with some authorities advising the use of judgement for the general meanings and judgment for the judicial one (number 2 above). This distinction does not seem to be holding firm though, if it ever did. While the British courts themselves, along with Parliament, use the spelling judgment on their official websites, both the corpus and the real world show a less clear-cut division. For example, the BBC spells the legal meaning both judgment and judgement on different websites; some sites go even further, using both spellings in the same story. Given the numerical superiority of the form without the middle ‘e’ you are probably OK using the spelling judgment in all contexts, though if you prefer to preserve the distinction and use judgement when not talking about judicial matters, or even use judgement in all cases, then that’s fine too.

    1. If you want to advance in a spelling bee, the way to spell the word is “judgment”.

  15. Might be worth pointing out that “judgement” is consistent with the way the word is pronounced.

    1. So’s “judgment”. Your extraneous “e” is silent.

      1. Unless you were suggested that you pronounce “judgement” with three syllables.

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