Jail pushes out gaol as language modernises

ENGLISH is a brilliant language.

There are endless exceptions to rules, one word can mean multiple and completely different things and of course, some words have different spellings.

This sometimes leads to debate over which spelling is correct, not only in Australian usage, but modern usage. 

One reader queried our spelling of jail in a court story on Thursday, stating it should be gaol, and piquing our sometimes nerdy interest in language, it prompted us to do a bit of digging. 

We found that both have French origins – gaol from the old northern word gayol and jail from the Parisian jaile.

Indeed, gaol was preferred in Australian English until the 1990s, even in newspapers, but has changed over time.

Now newspaper style guides prefer jail unless it is part of a name and even our bible, the Oxford Dictionary, prefers the more modern spelling, although it still lists gaol as the British spelling. 

Once gaols are renamed correctional facilities, the spelling is expected to disappear from our vernacular.