“Aeroplane”

I’ve been reading about the return tour of an American cult rock band from the 1990s, Neutral Milk Hotel. The reviews all mention the album that’s considered their best, “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”

Aeroplane was first used for a “heavier-than-air aircraft,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 1868, that is, before the aeroplane before it was invented. The OED describes airplane as “chiefly North American”; its first citation is from a 1906 Scientific American article that notes: “Air-plane is a much better word than aeroplane. It is as good etymologically, and much better when it is spoken.” The OED comments: “Airplane became the standard U.S. term (replacing aeroplane) after it was adopted by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1916. Although A. Lloyd Jones recommended its adoption by the BBC in 1928, it has until recently been no more than an occasional form in British English.”

Google Ngram Viewer confirms this analysis:

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 11.16.32 AMIf the chart is too small to make out, it shows that aeroplane is still (barely) the preferred spelling in the U.K., and is virtually never used in the U.S.–other than in Neutral Milk Hotel albums.

Of course, I’d bet that in both lingos, the far preferred term is plane.

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14 responses to ““Aeroplane”

  1. I suspect, in the UK at least, that both “aeroplane” and “airplane” have largely been supplanted by “aircraft”. This has a broader meaning as it embraces helicopters, lighter-than-air and unpowered air vehicles.

  2. Here in the UK, we would normally say “plane” or “aircraft”, and occasionally “aeroplane”, but never “airplane”. The first time I was aware of the word was the movie of the same name!

    • I couldn’t agree more. I’d never use “airplane” and would very surprised if I found any British person using it.

  3. “Airplane” has always annoyed me, possibly for the implied assumption that the reader will know the word needs a third syllable, but “aeroplane” unnecessarily calls attention to itself, and interrupts the flow of reading for most Americans, thanks to Noah Webster.

  4. How can “airplane” imply the need for a third syllable when it only has and requires two?

  5. I guess the US doesn’t have the Aero chocolate bar.

    I wonder why the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (precursor of Nasa) didn’t change its own last word to Airnautics while they were about it. I can see why Aerospace stayed the same, “airspace” meaning something different.

  6. Narmitaj, I hadn’t made the Aero bar connection, but now you mention it I think we can agree that the case for “aeroplane” has a number of holes in it!

  7. ‘Aeroplane’ was also a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

  8. We have “airfields” and “airports”, but used to have “aerodromes” in Britain. I would guess that any usage of “airplane” in British printed sources would be direct quoting of US speakers, or reference to the films! I don’t think I’ve ever heard “airplane” in normal speech. “Aeroplane” is quite archaic now.
    Aeros… argh….

  9. Rosalind Mitchell

    I haven’t heard anybody say ‘aeroplane’ in yonks (is that a briticism?). It would seem rather pompous to me. ‘Plane’ or ‘aircraft’ depending on context.

  10. I would probably say “plane”…as in “which is our plane”, but I would definitely say “aeroplane” as in “look at that aeroplane”. For what it’s worth, I’m English and 54 years old. Perhaps younger people won’t use that form.

  11. Aussie here:

    We follow the brits on this one. Never say “airplane”. Aeroplane would be the word use when the full word is actually used. Normally it would just be plane or aircraft. Occasionally you’ll hear “jumbo” to refer to a large jet (ie. Look at that jumbo flying overhead) coming from the old 747 nickname the “Jumbo Jet”. On that note, sometimes you’ll hear just “jet” too :P.

    As for landing areas, airports and airfields are the norm. Aerodrome is occasionally used but would refer only to something historically related to that word, or a very small and probably private airfield.

  12. I have never heard a Briton use “airplane”.

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