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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 6, February 11, 2007, Article 30

THE OED ON JAIL VS GAOL VS GOAL

Dr. Kerry Rodgers writes: "I thought I could give this one a pass
but I couldn’t resist it.  Martin Purdy referred to the Concise Oxford.
Knowing the limitations of the Concise, I opted for its Big Brother,
The Oxford Dictionary of English (revised edition). Ed. Catherine Soanes
and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2005.  I had got intrigued
by the etymology that was being quoted and particularly the comment
from David Fanning, “If the OED doesn't know, you can be sure it's a
stumper.” The OED does indeed know.

"Firstly, among its 13 definitions of “goal”, none makes reference
to incarceration.

"Secondly, it gives “jail” as an acceptable British spelling but also
accepts “gaol” as an alternative.  It cites the derivation of both
versions from Middle English, based on Latin cavea, for a cage, with
the word coming into English in two forms, jaiole from Old French and
gayole from the Anglo-Norman French gaole. It is the latter usage that
survives in the spelling gaol, pronounced with a hard g, as in goat.
Any misspelling as goal, when referring to a jail, is just that."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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