Spelling of flotation/floatation

So by way of some background, I was at my Sisters house last night and the talk got on to schooling methods, as a result of my nephew (in grade 3) doing a computer based mathematics learning exercise. And I discovered they had not been taught long division (a whole other kettle of fish which I won’t start on at the moment).

This then lead to English, thanks to me enquiring about how they were being taught English, whether it was ‘whole language’ or phonics or what. (I think they are the terms used these days). So anyway somehow off the back of this my nephew now gets an impromptu spelling test on his “words of the week” spelling homework. (We’re getting really close to the point now so don’t give up)

One of his words is flotation. He spells it f-l-o-a-t-a-t-i-o-n.

Hmm… close I think to myself, but good effort.

“Correct” says my sister. :eek: I’m sorry hang on what’s that? In my nephew’s school book, floatation has been marked as correct by his teacher.

:dubious: Thinks I.

To the Web I say, and discover, lo and behold, both spellings are techincally correct.

American English versus British English you say? The source of so many of these spelling difficulties right? Apparently not.

So given the academic supra genius and general super smartness on these boards, what a better place to ask then here?

So how do you spell flotation?

And can anyone shed some light on why both spellings are considered acceptable? My Google-fu hasn’t been succesful in shedding any light on it.

I use “flotation” myself and was also surprised that “floatation” was in common usage. That having been said, I doubt there’s more of an answer as to “why both spellings are considered acceptable” than that both spellings get used by people.

I don’t think I’ve ever needed to spell that word, but I think flotation is the way I would spell it, although floatation doesn’t particularly irk me, either.

Why two spellings? I don’t know. Plenty of words have more than one acceptable spelling. See: traveler vs. traveller, ageing vs. aging, catalog vs. catalogue, amoeba vs. ameba, axe vs. ax, gray vs. grey, adviser vs. advisor, etc…

Eh, the dictionary confirms that “flotation” is correct, and “floatation” is an acceptable variant, but the first actually looks wrong to me, and I’d have spelled it the second way. After all, it’s derived from "“float”, not “flot”.

How d’ya know it’s not derived from flotsam, eh, eh??

Duh, because it’s not pronounced “flottation.” :rolleyes:


Because we would then also have to have “jetation”, which sounds like it has something to do with airplanes.

I’ve only spelled it floatation (if I’ve ever even spelled it…) although just now I see Firefox puts a red line under it, so it’s dictionary thinks it’s wrong. I mean, like what was said, it comes from float so floatation makes more sense to me than flotation.

Ignore this post.

I always did a double-take when I saw it spelled “flotation” on the airplane seat cards until I looked it up in the dictionary.

Word spelling and usage is not set in stone, as you may have gather from many spirited discussions on this board. If an error becomes used often enough by enough people it becomes a variant, then eventually becomes correct.

BTW I am very amused at the Google ad at the bottom of this thread, note both spellings at once :slight_smile: :

Yes, but the word ‘float’ comes from the Middle English flot - and Middle English already had the action suffix ~acioun - so I think it’s case of flot turning into float somewhat independently of flotacioun turning into flotation.

A similar sort of disharmony appears to be in place for the words pronounce and pronunciation.

According to the style guide of The Times, the different spellings have different meanings:

Make of that what you will.

Flotation, but then, in Spanish it’s* flotación*. From flotar. My bet is that the Latin verb just managed to grab an extra “a” in English.

That seems really weird, since the term ‘flotation’ pertaining to the stock market is just a metaphor for liquid-based bouyancy, isn’t it?

I have the same reaction as Cooking With Gas when I’m on the plane.

To me, only floatation makes any sense.

But I did exactly as the OP, looked it up and went, hmmm.

First few cites in OED show that the variants have been tussling with each other for ages.

It is weird, and I suspect it is actually due to different sections of the paper having different house styles.

Sounds like bull to me.

Heh, funny thing is, I learned it as flotation and did the same double take when I saw it spelled your way on the back of an airplane tray table!

It was Northwest Airlines, by the way. Years ago.