You say 'vermillion', I say 'vermilion'

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Bert | 13:15 Sun 18th Jul 2010 | Word Origins
14 Answers
I now know that 'vermillion' is an allowed (in some dictionaries, but not Chamber's) spelling of 'vermilion'. Does anybody out there (Quizmonster, for example) know what is the history of these two words? Which has primacy in English? I know the derivation is from an old French word with two Ls, but I had never seen it with two Ls until recently. Is it possible that 'vermillion' is allowed because 'vermilion' has been misspelt so often? If so, how long before 'seperate' and 'accomodation' enter to OED?


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The print edition of the OED lists vermilion and then says, "also vermillion." (The variations listed in Scotman's response do not mean that all of these are now acceptable, but only that they have been used at some time somewhere.). The quotes the OED offers since the early 17th century have instances of both spellings. It seems to me, therefore, that the...
10:09 Mon 19th Jul 2010
From the OED

It looks like it has very many spelling options

vermilion, n. and a. Forms: . 3 vermelyon, 6 -eleon, -eleoun; 45 vermilyon, 5 -ylyoun, 56 -ylyon(e, 6 -ylion; 45 vermilioun, 5 vermilion (67 -milian, 7 virmilion). . 4 vermeillone, 5 -elone, 57 -elon, 6 Sc. -eloun; 45 vermylone, 4 fer-, 5 vermyloun, 56 vermylon; 45 vermulon, 45 vermilon(e, -iloun; also 6 vermelonde, Sc. wermeling, -myling. . 69 vermillion, 7 virmillion.
[a. AF. and OF. vermeillon, vermillon, vermilo(u)n, etc. (mod.F. vermillon, = Prov. vermeillon, vermillon, vermelho, Cat. bermello, Sp. bermellon, bermillon, vermellon, Pg. vermelhaõ, It. vermiglione), f. vermeil vermeil a. Hence also Du. vermiljoen, Da. and Sw. vermilion.]

A. n.
1. Cinnabar or red crystalline mercuric sulphide, esp. in later use that obtained artificially, much valued on account of its brilliant scarlet colour, and largely used as a pigment or in the manufacture of red sealing-wax; also, any red earth resembling this and similarly used as a pigment.
In early use rendering L. minium and occas. confused with red lead' (as in quot. 1546 in ): see minium.

b. Used as a cosmetic or for painting the body.
In later use chiefly with reference to the war-paint' of the American Indians.

2. The colour of this pigment; a bright red or scarlet.

b. A blush. Obs.1

3. a. (Rendering L. vermiculum.) Wool or yarn of a red or scarlet colour. Obs.

b. A fabric dyed with vermilion. Obs.1

4. A red or reddish coloured variety of pear.

5. (Also vermilion-stone.) A particular gem or precious stone. Cf. vermeil n. 3. Obs.

6. a. Comb., as vermilion-dyed, -like adjs.;

b. attrib. with colour, etc. (passing into next); hence in combs., as vermilion-coloured.
'underway' must be in the dictionaries by now.
The print edition of the OED lists vermilion and then says, "also vermillion." (The variations listed in Scotman's response do not mean that all of these are now acceptable, but only that they have been used at some time somewhere.). The quotes the OED offers since the early 17th century have instances of both spellings. It seems to me, therefore, that the choice is yours, Bert. Given the much commoner word million, with its double 'L', I would be surprised if you often saw the single 'L' version of verml(l)ion nowadays. Not a word one sees every day, after all.
Re the other changes you suggest as possibilities and given the tendency of language to defer eventually to usage rather than 'correctness', their acceptance in the end would not surprise me at all!

J, the OED lists underway with an earliest recorded use in 1934.
I should have said above that my references to the OED were from the word as a verb. As a noun/adjective, vermilion is much earlier than the 17th century, but that too shows quotes using both single and double 'L' versions.
much older than I thought, Quizmonster.

In fact a quick Google reveals 21.8 million underways and a mere 8.5 million under ways, so it looks as if the 'correct' spelling has long since been supplanted.
Question Author
Crikey, Quizmonster! I could never have dreamed that vermilion could be a verb. What a weird language we speak!
I think and hope that spellings are fixed - after all, there seems to be no sign that 'color' or 'center' will ever be acceptable here after over 100 years of the American spelling being seen quite often. If a variant spelling has real antiquity in its favour, from before dictionaries set them in stone, as it were, then the present day dictionaries may reflect this. I'm quite glad that Chamber's does not recognise 'vermillion' - it looks utterly wrong to me.
Colour has been the standard British English spelling for the past three quarters of a millennium, though it has to be said that the American version, color, is exactly what the original Latin version was!
Center was the standard British English spelling - Milton, Shakespeare, Pope etc - until the 18th century and still is in the USA. It only really became centre here after the publication of Dr Johnson's dictionary.

As so often happens, perhaps we should really ask ourselves which of us got it right re colour AND centre...and many other words!
While simultaneously torn between the comforting fact that "Q" is still alive, well, not having succumbed to excess imbibition of the effects of fruit of the vine "ala' Francaise" and, on the other hand experiencing a retching, grinding of teeth inner turmoil and inenarrable misery at his use of 'commoner' to obviously mean 'more common'; caution overcame initial impulse and led me to my copy of OED.

Behold and low... OED allows for such panegyric use of the word. Whereas my copies of Merriam's, "et al" (where's the italics function ed?) clearly explains, with much common sense, the the word refers to the 'hoi polloi'... Not unlike the discussion re: vermillion, nee; vermilion.

But, it would appear, after consulting the history of Vermillion, South Dakota, here in the western U.S., that all are in error... see here:

Vermillion is located in the southeast corner of South Dakota
(derived its title from the Sioux name, WASE WAKPALA (wa sa
wak pa'la) meaning "red stream).

Settled, no? Good to see you "Q"...
Hi, C. (You're obviously a person of 'note'!) Fowler's Modern English Usage...under the heading "-er and -est, more and most" Para 2...reads:
"Other common -er and -est adjectives. Some other disyllables in everyday use as COMMON, cruel, pleasant, quiet etc (but not constant, sudden etc) prefer -er and -est."
You must have noticed over the years that I almost invariably champion usage over prescriptive grammar and also stand up for American English when it is idiotically decried here on AnswerBank. If Jonathan Swift could write about "the commonest reader" - and he did - I feel free to write about "the commoner word".

Yes, I'm still about, but as it had been making a loss, the French ferry company cancelled the evening return sailing that we used to travel on after a day in France. An overnight stay is now needed and that was never part of the deal. This summer has, therefore, been the first in which our culinary and bibulous 'invasions' of the French coast were brought to a halt. A crying shame in my view...they were glad enough to see our dads in 1945!
Nice to see you, too.

Whatever you do, try not to mention aluminum. I did once but I think I got away away with it.
Intelligently iconic are words oftenest utilized when I describe my pixillated friend "Q" from over the pond...
Scotman, actually, I have often over the years here on AnswerBank mentioned aluminum. Sir Humphrey Davy - who discovered it in 1807 - originally called it 'alumium' without an 'ni', before altering it to ‘alumina' and then changing it yet again to 'aluminum' still without the second 'i'.
Later, the editor of a British scientific journal changed it to 'aluminium' "in preference," he said, "to aluminum which has a less classical sound." Presumably he wanted it to rhyme with sodium, potassium and so on.

I see this as yet another example of how the American version of a word is actually more justified than ours, as I certainly believe that the discoverer of anything has a perfect right to call it what HE wants!

Maybe pixEllated would be kinder, C; I like to remain disguised, you see, especially when pixIllated! Cheers

Obviously my attempt at humour fell flat. Wish I had pointed out 'pixellated' now :-)))
Not at all, Q... I for one just couldn't get back to check the remains of the day... I got it, as they say!

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