Could someone who speaks American better than I do help me out here?

Something I’m getting increasingly puzzled about, the difference between principle and principal.

In English, a school has a principal, a capital repayment is the payment of principal on a mortgage or bond etc.

Principle is sure, I have principles and if you don’t like said morals then I have some others as well.

I keep seeing Americans using these differently. For example, this from Moody’s via email:

PDVSA’s hefty payment calendar through 2017 includes almost $4 billion in
debt service in Q4 2016 when $3 billion in principle payments come due:
$1 billion in October and another $2 billion in November. By contrast,
the sovereign has only interest payments due on its global bonds from now
through the end of 2017.

That’s not the only example which I recall.

Now, is that just a spelling mistake? Or does American use the spellings differently than English?

48 thoughts on “Could someone who speaks American better than I do help me out here?”

  1. Its likely a spelling mistake as even in American English the ‘core’ debt is the principal, separate from accumulating interest.

    Its not like anyone uses any editor more expensive than their word processor’s built-in spellchecker but its pretty piss-poor that a financial reporting intern didn’t know enough to catch that before he sent it out for release approval.

  2. Its a spelling or usage mistake. Principal comes via old French from the Latin principalis, whereas principle comes from the Latin principia, although they all derive ultimately from princeps (first, and as you may also remember from your Latin at school, spring).

  3. I thought you must be an expert on American.

    It is quite different than English which in its turn is quite different from American.

  4. Here in the US, schools no longer GAF about things like correct spelling or usage. Proper English is racist now.

  5. Questions from Tim we can answer: no.

    It’s wrong and won’t be picked up by a spool chucker. That said, languages evolve. Even English, which to believe some here was handed to Moses on stone tablets by God himself.

  6. “The septics, even those with advanced degrees from Harvard, are just fvckin thick.”

    Humour fail.
    I’ve met more thick Scots than thick Yanks, but I wouldn’t generalise.

  7. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    “Even English, which to believe some here was handed to Moses on stone tablets by God himself.”

    Duh ! That was Hebrew, of course. English was first written on the side of Excalbur’s stone.

  8. It’s just ignorance. There are other examples in American English: I particularly enjoy cars “careening” through the streets. Or see the American misuse of “contemporary” which then leads to the invention of “contemporaneous” to do the job that “contemporary” should do.

    I’ve even seen the suggestion that language evolution is largely a matter of mistakes being made and copied. That seems a bit unfair: the Yanks have given us plenty of useful neologisms that are not mere stupid mistakes.

  9. One might blame spell check also. These automatic spell checks seem to take place behind my back, when I am in online email or posting online, sometimes the server seems to spell check for me and change “to” to “two” or “too” and by then it’s too late. Also, a Principle Payment might not mean payment of principal, but might mean As A Principle Held True, Payment Is Being Rendered – though unlikely.

  10. P.S. What would be the point of Moses’ tablet being in Hebrew? He was brought up as an Egyptian, so presumably he’d need them in hieroglyphs. Except that he didn’t exist of course.

  11. Mind you, American English used to be rather admirable: I’m old enough to remember terse, simple, elegant English from them, with colourful flourishes. Now look at it: all too often wordy rubbish from earnest fools.

  12. “I particularly enjoy cars “careening” through the streets”

    That’s why the streets are so clean.

  13. Dearieme>

    Careening, I’ll accept, given how much cars roll on their suspension when you chuck them around.

    As for Hebrew/Egyptian, no, Akkadian, probably, based purely on the period. But everyone forgets there’s more than one version of the Ten Commandments. You have to be more specific 🙂

  14. Bloke in Costa Rica

    The disinterested/uninterested confusion is the one that most makes my teeth ache. There’s also the regrettable tendency to use ‘momentarily’ to mean ‘in a moment’ vs. ‘for a moment’. The your/you’re, its/it’s and there/their/they’re bêtises are perplexing, too. I think the greatest problem is sheer lack of intellectual curiosity. How one can make it to adulthood and breathing unaided without noticing that a) there are homophones and b) they mean different things, is quite amazing, but there you are.

    Yes, I blame the teachers.

  15. Don’t know why you’re all sweating over the slightly more intellectual stuff. For me, I can just never get past these two pieces of utter nonsense:

    “I feel badly” and “I could care less”


  16. Philip Scott Thomas

    And then there is, of course, the utter inability of so many British writers not only to grasp even the most basic rules of punctuation (Hello, Richard Murphy. We’re looking at you.), but also to distinguish between ‘draws’ and ‘drawers’.

    It’s odd how often American blog posts and comments are literate and follow the standard rules of spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure, whilst British posts and comments require a reader to bring along his own editorial tool kit.

  17. I always check to see if there’s a picture of the writer when they ask “bare with me”. Sometimes I would, willingly. Other times, er, no thanks. But I might bear with them while they struggle with their English.

    And I see SE’s “less” and “fewer” and raise him a “number” and “amount”.

  18. Dave, are you sure the Egyptians wrote in Akkadian when Moses was (not) a lad? WKPD:

    Extensive texts appear from about 2600 BC. Middle Egyptian was spoken from about 2000 BC for a further 700 years when Late Egyptian made its appearance. … Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian were all written using hieroglyphs and hieratic.

  19. My job title includes the word ‘principal’ which has to be corrected from ‘principle’ in quite a few of the reports that I peer review. Most reports deal with principal stresses (normal stresses acting on a plane where the shear stresses are zero if anyone was wondering). A correction is often necessary to this term, though frustratingly, not always in the same report, i.e. both spellings are used. These are young engineers with degrees. I suspect that, knowing how pedantic I am, and how particularly anal I am with regard to consistency, they see an opportunity for advancement if they can get me carted off to the funny farm due to their inconsistent spelling, grammar and layout.

  20. God, being omnipotent, could have written the tablets in any language and script: past, present, or future. And taught Moses to read it.

    However, fortunately enough DeMille was there to film events, so we know that the tablets were written in a paleo-Hebrew script which would become current a few hundred years later.

  21. At least we Americans have the good sense to pronounce the letter R where it is on the page and not move it around. 😉

    One of my favorites was a BBC World Service report talking about “the two careers”. I had no idea what the report was going on about, until the correspondent mentioned “north career” and “south career”.

  22. Dearieme>

    Hieroglyphics weren’t a writing system in the modern sense. To set down texts of the complexity we’re talking about requires Akkadian, pretty much, in that period.

  23. I’m afraid I sometimes deliberately break the prescriptive rules on “fewer” vs “less” in order to irritate the pedants.

    And then refer them to this article, in order to out-pedant them. It’s a sort of pedant-baiting sport.

    Wikipedia also has an article on fewer vs less, pointing out that Alfred the Great was using “less” with counting nouns back in 888, and the rule about not doing so was instituted no earlier than 1770, and only as one writer’s stylistic preference when faced with quite prevalent contrary usage at the time.

  24. Moses wrote the 10 commandments in God’s language, English, of course. I don’t care what your ‘science’ says.

    Also, don’t English schools have ‘Headmasters’?

  25. They just cant spell. that’s the reason for the difference in the language in the first plast. Missing u’s, Z’s insteade of esses. The US has embraced the lowest common denominator but allowed it to rise.

  26. The one that I see far too often from both sides of the pond is “breech” vs. “breach”. Often in the discussion of web site defenses (defences).

  27. Jorb
    June 21, 2016 at 3:40 am

    They just cant spell. . . the first plast. Missing u’s, Z’s insteade of esses.

    And there are no missing ‘u’s in English. You guys keep adding them in 😉 – aluminium, anyone. Centre, programme, colour.

    ‘shedule’ vs ‘skedule’, defense vs defence.

    ‘Fanny’ means ‘bum’ here (and bum has more than one meaning) and something quite different there.

    If someone here is pissed, just stay away from them. Over there . . . probably should do the same thing.

    And you definitely do not want to get caught knocking up your neighbor

    And you guys have a different, mutually incomprehensible, accent every ten miles traveled.

    The Anglosphere – a people separated by a common language.

  28. Alternate/Alternatively – Americans use the former to mean the latter, even though they have different (albeit) related meanings. I don’t have a Webster’s Collegiate to hand but maybe it’s accepted usage nowadays?

  29. “Z’s insteade of esses”

    AFAIK the use of Z was the original English which the ‘mericans took over with them on the boat.

    In the interim our poets all got a bit francified and to show how superior they were to the people who could only speak English, started using S.

    So the Americans are correct, unless you are a traitorous cheese eating surrender monkey.

  30. Tim, permit me to appraise you that in America today its considered a “microaggression” to question anyone’s spelling or word usage. Virtually any use of a word is aloud.

    You may pour over any number of sources – you will find this is so.

    But the name “microaggression” does not infer it is a small matter. In fact a surprising number of students found in the hollowed isles of American universities can be reduced to tears upon encountering a microaggression. A significant affect, no?

    The remedy for microagressions seems to be “safe spaces”. In those spaces, students feel protected from life. (sadly, most have yet to figure out that these spaces do not altar the reel world and will not be excepted in the workplace.

  31. American Rs. Love hearing them risk tongue damage saying “mirror”.

    Another of my favourites: “Will merry Mary marry?”

  32. John Fembup

    Using infer (deduce), when imply (suggest) is meant, is my bugbear.

    I think you new what you were doing though, so not a criticism of you 🙂

  33. I have all my life been “down” on ‘fall’. Until recently I found that ‘fall’ is the English word, while autumn is from the French. Vive l’Anglais !

  34. It is a very odd error for American journalists. Raised on the travesty of Strunk and White, they are usually precise to the point of ridicule. It looks to me like an AI-generated text that’s learned from some earlier error and hasn’t been edited by a meatbrain.

  35. As everyone here is well aware, I have atrocious communication skills. This has been true as long as I can remember.

    Luckily I also remember the advice for which principle(pal) the teacher gave. Principal is the head of the school and he is your pal(we can read a lot* into this) and any other use is principle.

    * The same teacher(4th or 5th grade so 9 or 10) convinced us that a lot is spelled alot. It wasn’t until I was in AP(senior year or 17) English that any teacher mentioned the entire class was incorrect. The fact that I was in AP(the top level) English should be enough to show the quality of American education.

  36. “Even English, which to believe some here was handed to Moses on stone tablets by God himself.”

    If you believe some, it was quite a long time before Moses…
    Genesis 11:1-9

  37. Increasingly, I have students who don’t what a homophone is. They know the concept (no vs. know), and they sometimes get it right, but they don’t even know there’s a name for the concept.

    Yet, I have also noticed this with other words, like homogenous.

    I’m speculating, but I have a sense that it is because teachers are avoiding discussion of anything with the prefix homo, which is approaching some sort of reserved status for its usage.

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