You Say Gage, I Say Gauge

To “gage” or not to “gauge.” That is the question.

Recently I asked my boss, a stellar wordsmith, why so many in the engineering and science fields use the spelling sans “u” when referring to measurements, measuring and the instruments used to do the measuring.

While engineers may fret over a competitor’s product specs, wordsmiths lose sleep when words are repeatedly spelled or used incorrectly (I’m looking at you, “literally.”)

To my surprise, she had the same question. Why “gage” and not “gauge”? When in doubt, Google will find out.

It turns out, “gage” has been the preferred spelling of the word in the engineering world since the late 19th century. That’s according to a 2015 Facebook post by the U.S. Geological Survey regarding “streamgage vs. streamgauge.”

The post suggests the answer to that question relevant to measuring water flows is drowned deep in a USGS report of its Water Resources Branch. On Page 50 of the report, credit for this change in spelling is given to F.H. Newell, former director of the United States Reclamation Service, who cited in 1892 that “gage” is the Saxon spelling of the word and the “u” was added by Norman influence.

However, for non-engineer-types like me, I’ll be gauging my neighbor’s mood when my holiday light display is still up in February.


Richard Wilson

Richard Wilson is a former newspaper reporter with a distinct love and profound appreciation for the written word. He recently joined our Marketing Communications team as a content writer.