Every well-learned journalist prescribes and adheres to some manual of style. In fact, many major media outlets have their own guides to proper style for their writers, like the Associated Press Stylebook (which I use), The Economist Style Guide, and of course, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. I bring this up because, as I understand it, the latter of these three, used by the astute newspaper of the same name hailing from the heart of the Big Apple, recently modified it’s guidelines regarding the use of the words whiskey versus whisky.
Blogger Eric Asimov of the Times‘ excellent blog The Pour recently used the spelling whisky in reference to single-malt scotch, to which Times readers scolded him profoundly, asking whether or not he knew better that to omit the “e” when referring to Scotch and Canadian whisky.
“Well, of course I knew that,” Asimov stated calmly. “But nonetheless the style at The Times was to use the spelling whiskey, and that’s what I did.” Indeed, and in defense of Mr. Asimov, I’ve found that many spell check programs even hilight the word when spelled sans-”e”, as many authorites on the subject would tell you that the difference in spellings is, in reality, of little importance. “Given the vehemence of the reaction, though, I promised to ask the editors in charge of Times style to revisit the issue,” Asimov told his readers. Much to my surprise, Asimov says that “after careful consideration” his editors did indeed decide to alter their style. “As of now, the spelling whisky will be used not only for Scotch but for Canadian liquor as well. The spelling whiskey will be used for all appropriate liquors from other sources.”
John Doxat, editor of The Indespensible Drinks Book, says that although Scotch and Canadian Varieties—as well as the growing market of Japanese spirits—typically omit the “e” in their spelling, “The spelling is often discussed, but is of no importance.” Regardless, it is interesting to ponder the profundity of such a word—two spellings, essentially one meaning—which could cause such confusion as to alter the style briefings of New York Times journalists. Ah, the alcohol elitists are at it again!