This is part of the difference between series.

Recently, I came across the following Twitter exchange, which highlighted an interesting phenomenon: apparently everyone doesn’t spell whoa like I do:

In response to a tweet someone mentioned them in, ACLU sent the following tweet:

In it, they spelled whoa as woah. Then a Twitter user called them on it.

This apparently took ACLU by surprise, assuming that everyone misspelled whoa like they did. To deal with their newfound cognitive dissonance, they reached out to Merriam Webster for clarification:

Merriam Webster responded by saying that they’re in the wrong:

Okay, well, sort of wrong.

So this isn’t going to be one of my typical Difference between posts. While woah is a misspelling of whoa, there is something interesting at work. Take a look at the printed use of whoa and woah over the last 200 years:

Whoa clearly is the more popular usage. But notice the slight uptick for woah. Let’s isolate that, so we can see it more clearly:

This is where things get a bit interesting. Since about the 1970s, the misspelled woah seems to have experienced an ongoing rise in popularity. Keep in mind that this is the appearance of woah in print form. However, a quick Google News search for woah brings up over 100,000 results. Clearly, woah is gaining in popularity. But there’s something else:

As Twitter user Kevin Fox pointed out, there’s another trend at work. Check out this Google Trends screenshot:

Google Trends allows you to compare search queries. Here we see that not only has woah been increasing in usage over the last 13 years, but (surprisingly!) the correct spelling—whoa—is actually declining in usage, and has been for about 8 years.

If we take all this information together, we may be witnessing the emergence of a legitimate variant spelling of whoa. Now, none of the dictionaries I consulted list woah as a variant spelling of whoa, so it may be a while before it attains widespread acceptance, but if the trends continue, this may be something that happens.

As Matthew J.X. Malady stated, “In this highly textual age, the typos of today can become the variant spellings of the future.” Only time will tell.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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