Posted by: episystechpubs | March 22, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Publicly or Publically?

Dear Editrix,

I’m seeing this more often now and it bugs me: When did publicly become publically?

Publicly Curious in San Diego

Dear Curious,

This is one of those examples of our ever-changing language. I’m with you. I like publicly, and that has been considered the correct spelling for a long time. However, this article I found is interesting, so I thought I’d share part of it with you. For the full article, see the Stroppy Editor. (And by the way, the punctuation and spelling is British, so don’t get too upset with the author.)

Publicly vs. Publically

From time to time I see “publically” in copy. I’ve even caught myself typing it once or twice. It’s widely regarded as a mistake (although some dictionaries now list it as a variant spelling).

But the approved spelling, “publicly”, is a unique oddity. It’s the only adverb ending in “–icly” formed from an adjective that ends in “–ic”.


· hectic – hectically

· tragic – tragically

· archaic – archaically

· cryptic – cryptically

· idiotic – idiotically

And so on. But “public” alone bucks the trend to become “publicly”.

People who write “publically” – whether through momentary carelessness or because they think that’s how it’s spelt – may be mistaken but they’re not stupid. They’re promoting regularity in the language. They’re like children who say “runned” and “buyed” and “bringed” because they’ve worked out the rule for forming past-tense verbs but haven’t realised that there are exceptions.

We get taught about these exceptions, though: there are over 100 irregular verbs, most well-known. But there’s only one “publicly”, so people are less aware of it as an issue and it appears in adult usage far more than over-regularised verbs.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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