‘Orthopedic’ vs ‘Orthopaedic’: What’s the Difference? At first glance, the difference is obvious — the words are spelled differently, so one of them must be wrong. However, that is not entirely the case. One major aspect of language is how it changes over time, which you’ll read more about below.
In a hurry? Here’s a short preview of what you’ll learn:
As mentioned, the easy and obvious difference here is the edition of that mysterious “a” in the middle of ‘Orthopaedic.’
But why is it there? Is it just a typo, or is it purposeful?
The truth is, ‘Orthopaedic’ is, in fact, correct and is the spelling most commonly used in British English.
Interestingly, the British ‘Orthopaedic’ spelling still appears in many formal settings, even in America. For example, the American Academy for Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Association of Orthopaedic Medicine still use the “ae” spelling.
Before we take a closer look at the term ‘Orthopedic’ itself, let’s get an understanding of British English and its spelling differences.
According to Oxford Languages, the primary reason for British English's spelling differences is its history.
The various spellings of words evolved over time as specifically American dictionaries were published that cemented words to be written as they sounded in an American accent. A variety of changes were made and can now be seen as recurring differences between countries.
Let’s look at some examples and note that British English spellings will be on the left and on the right; you’ll see their transformed American English versions:
Now that you’ve seen how British English spelling affects various words, let’s dive into our new vocabulary word: ‘Orthopedic.'
In essence, doctors working in orthopedics help keep an eye on bones and muscles as well as the tissue that holds them all together. Due to the nature of many of these injuries, orthopedic surgeons often have younger children as patients, which connects to the origin of the word.
Given that the key reason for the spelling change in American English is due to phonetic pronunciation, it’s very important to hear that difference as well as read it. Below you’ll find the phonetic spelling for both versions of the word and the pronunciation.
Use this phonetic spelling as a guide to pronounce ‘Orthopedic’ in an American accent:
Use this phonetic spelling as a guide to pronounce ‘Orthopaedic’ in a British accent:
Because the words have identical meanings, the example sentences will be nearly the same. However, pay attention to the context to see when you might more commonly see each version of the spelling.
The beauty of the English language is its diversity in terms of pronunciation and history, but that can also be the ugly part. You’ve learned today that linguistic history is a great way to study social changes, and it can be interesting to see how words we use today can vary across the globe. Remember though, don’t let new spellings trip up your pronunciations, but also keep an open mind so as to not write things off immediately as typos.
Want a recap of what you learned today?
As you saw in the examples above, there are all manner of words that changed when they came across the pond, so be sure to read up on those in other confusing word articles. Finally, as always, don’t get discouraged by unfamiliar words and spellings. Instead use them as an opportunity to expand your vocabulary and worldly knowledge — and as a chance to practice your British accent.