If you’re a spelling snob with a sweet tooth, you’ve encountered the question: Is it a doughnut or a donut?
The answer, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is that it is, in fact, both.
According to a post in the dictionary’s Words at Play blog to celebrate National Donut Day:
“We’ve been encountering the variantdonutin published, edited text since the mid-20th century. It was certainly helped along by famous doughnut purveyors – both Dunkin’ and Mister – but in truth they and all who’ve accepted the variant were following in a tradition ofphonetic-based spelling reformalso embraced by the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Noah Webster …
“Our inclusion ofdonutis based solely on evidence of the variant in a variety of published, edited texts.”
Phonetic-based spelling reform aside, let’s take a closer look at the donut chains: Dunkin’ Donuts and Mister Donut, two chains founded bybrothers-in-lawin the mid-1950s.
- Shutterstock/Sam Howzit
The first Dunkin’ Donuts was opened in 1950, a revamp of William Rosenberg’s coffee-and-doughnut shop Open Kettle. Rosenberg began franchising in 1955, opening the 100th location in 1963 and 1,000th shop in 1979.
A Dunkin’ Donuts representative told Business Insider the company did not have additional information on why Rosenberg spelled Dunkin’ Donuts as “donuts” versus “doughnuts,” though the chain could confirm that it has been spelled that way since 1950.
The first Mister Donut opened in Boston in 1955, and it expanded to nearly 1,000 locations in the US before its American business was acquired by Dunkin’ Donuts’ parent company in 1990. Today, Mister Donut has a booming business in Asia, with more than 10,000 locations worldwide.
As pointed out by the grammar blogger Grammar Girl, the rise of Dunkin’ Donuts (and, to a lesser degree Mister Donut), ran parallel to a significant growth of the use of the “donut” spelling since the 1950s, according to Google Books data.
- Google Books Ngram
Donut has gained ground even more rapidly in recent years. Since 2005, the use of the term donut has risen steadily, according to Google Trends, while the use of doughnut has remained constant – perhaps, in part, because of the character constraints connected to social media.
Still, don’t count the doughnut out just yet.
Outside the US, “doughnut” is still the term of choice, though Dunkin’ Donuts does use the term donut in the UK.
- Facebook/Krispy Kreme
In fact, the Associated Press Style Guide prefers doughnut, as domost style guides. Even BuzzFeed’s public style guide,which has references to phrases such as Bernie Bros (both capitalized) and mansplain (one word), prefers doughnut, except in the case of Dunkin’ Donuts. Despite its pro-phonetic-spelling spiel, Merriam-Webster actually refers to donut as a variant of doughnut.
But what about when discussing Dunkin’ Donuts’ sweet treats? Can a donut chain sell doughnuts?
Apparently, yes. A Business Insider copy editor pointed out that the Associated Press had spoken directly on the issue.
In 2013, the company answered the question “Does Dunkin’ Donuts make donuts or doughnuts?” saying, “Donut is the company’s brand name for the food item spelled doughnut in the AP Stylebook and dictionaries.”
- Yelp/Michael U.
At first, it’s a counterintuitive answer. How can Dunkin’ Donuts sell doughnuts, not donuts?
Upon further reflection, the fact there is even a question signifies the power of the chain. Sixty years ago, there was no doughnut-versus-donut debate. There was just the doughnut – and a coffee-and-doughnut shop in Quincy, Massachusetts, called Dunkin’ Donuts.
Today the majority of the best doughnuts shops in America sell “donuts,” not “doughnuts,” with names such as Bob’s Donut and Pastry Shop, Sugar Shack Donuts, and The Donut Man. Dunkin’ may have popularized the donut, but plenty of other chains have been willing to adopt it.
You can thank one chain for the rise of the donut – and your spelling angst. And remember, at the end of the day, unless you’re writing for a publication with a pledged allegiance to the AP Style Guide, the donut and doughnut are just two interchangeable names for “a piece of sweet fried dough that is often shaped like a ring.”