Dear Dr. Boli: Last night there was a terrific bar fight at the Tyrol, and it all started because the bartender wrote “whiskey” instead of “whisky” on the blackboard. So which spelling is correct? I’d really like to know by the time I get my cast off, because I’ll probably go back to the Tyrol to celebrate. —Sincerely, Brett, Room 1349, Mercy Hospital.
Dear Sir: American and Irish writers generally spell “whiskey” with an E; Scottish and Canadian writers spell it without the E. This is exactly the same sort of difference as that between “color” and “colour,” and thus the answer to your question ought to be that your bartender was correct, because he is an American. The subject of fine (by which we mean “expensive”) spirits, however, somehow encourages an extraordinary degree of pedantry; and lovers of “whisky” from Scotland become very belligerent on the subject of spelling, insisting that any other spelling than the one on the label is incorrect. This is, of course, exactly equivalent to insisting that it is incorrect to speak of “fiber” in oatmeal imported from Scotland, because what is in the Scottish stuff is “fibre.” Under ordinary circumstances, one would simply explain to such pedants that their incorrect premise has led them to a false conclusion. In the matter of “whisky,” however, one must take into account the near certainty that the pedants in question have been drinking very strong spirits.