I know a lot of my readers will have the first impulse of associating the ‘e’ in the title with some new-age word like email or e-governance or electronics. The truth is that right from words like evolution to emergence, from elevation to energy… e has had a pretty good run. This alphabet rules the sociology, ecology, politics, economics, and the electronics of life… so must the beverages be left far behind?

One of great battles of ‘e’ is between whisky and whiskey, and this is what we are going to talk about. Yes, it is a fun debate but if you just care to go to the right pages and sites on the internet you’ll know that whisky and whiskey are debated with great ferocity and fervour.

The first fact that comes across is that all whisky produced in Scotland is spelt without the e. Which obviously means that Scotch whisky is not Scotch whiskey… got it? If it is whiskey that you see somewhere, it has to have an American origin. Some also insist that ‘whiskey’ is how the Americans have decided to spell this beverage, even if it is the one from Scotland. But we’re not going to debate the pig-headed stubborn notions of anyone or any nation here…

‘But what if it is whisky singles from Scotland being used to produce a blend in America?’

Well, it is only right to spell such blends without that ‘e’ and this is what I insist upon. After you, the lineage of even a whisky needs to be respected, don’t you agree? However, there are lot of people who know that a quite a few Canadian whiskies go without this ‘e’ that seems to have invaded the Americas… and these Canadian whiskies aren’t necessarily blended with any Scotch whisky. So there is lot of confusion with the ‘e’ in whisky… and this is why I say there is a rather vigorous battle going on out there amongst the connoisseurs of this drink.

The only certainty about whisky is that ‘scotch’ is used only for Scottish whisky and that the plural would have the e merrily sandwiched in the spelling. Oh, and did I mention that the Irish don’t like to reduce their whiskey to a mere whisky… and that even the sedate ‘The Times’ was forced to bring about changes in their style guide because of this spelling battle. One website explains what happened in 2008: 

In December 2008, a Times columnist writing about single malts from the Speyside region of the Scottish Highlands used the spelling “whiskey” throughout, as prescribed by the newspaper’s style guide.

He even went so far as to use the phrase “Scotch whiskey”! The Times was pelted with so many complaints that it changed its style.

A follow-up article in February 2009 noted the paper’s change in policy: “As of now, the spelling whisky will be used not only for Scotch but for Canadian liquor as well. The spelling whiskey will be used for all appropriate liquors from other sources.”

This battle has enough power to wage on forever and the world loves it as there a so many jokes and light-hearted comments and observations created because of this. One article on the internet mentions this rather classic solution to the entire issue: ‘If you’re using the word in a letter to yourself, as a reminder to get down to the liquor store tomorrow, we suppose it doesn’t really matter. But if you’re writing a note on the refrigerator, and you happen to have a Scottish or Canadian exchange student staying in your home, you’re better off leaving the ‘e’ out of the spelling. No need to start an international incident over an alphanumeric character.

And I do agree with this blogger when he asks us not to start yet another conflict that can be avoided.


The battle of 'e'

The battle of ‘e’

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Arvind Passey
27 May 2014