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Calibre or Caliber: An Interesting "Watchword"


Always"watching"
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In my idiosyncratic way, I have always spelled the term "calibre" the American way, i.e. "caliber", when referring to watch movements. In my wisdom, In my written work, I mentally made a distinction between "calibre" as the measurement of a person's worth and "caliber" as a designation for a watch movement, and have used the American spelling consistently for horological purposes.

In writing a topic recently, however, I thought about this question of spelling again and Googled the word caliber/calibre to get some information and clarification:

The word came to English in the 16th century from the French calibre, and the first meaning of the word in English, c.1560, was a figurative one, "degree of merit or importance", later coming to also mean "the capacity of one's mind, one's intellectual endowments". The spelling "caliber", although now American, was coined before the formation of the United States and was a common variant even in British writing until the modern spelling was firmly established in the late 19th century; at this time, the Americans changed many words that ended in -re to -er, including fibre, spectre and meagre. 

It has been postulated that the word "calibre" (perhaps originally from the Greek kalapous meaning "shoemaker's last") came into the French language from the Arab word qalib, meaning a mould for casting. However, doubt has been cast on this explanation, and it is more likely that the word derives from Medieval Latin qua libre, meaning "of what weight".

Apparently, the first use of the word calibre in horology occurs in the work of the English clockmaker Henry Sully (1680-1729) who worked in France. He used the word in about 1715 to describe the layout and dimensions of the different movement pillars, wheels, barrels, etc. revealing here a link between the use of "calibre" in firearms and in clocks/watches, as a measurement of diameter. As time went on, the term was extended to indicate the shape of the movement, its bridges, the origin of the watch/movement and name of its maker - ultimately coming to refer to and define the movement itself.  We now, in horology, typically refer to a movement as the "calibre/caliber xyz123" - that is, the word calibre, spelt either way, followed by the model number of the movement, eg "ETA caliber 2892-A2".

I am still not sure whether I should carry on using the spelling, "caliber", when writing about watch  movements, or should I, as a British person, turn to my European roots and change to the "calibre" spelling? I haven't quite made up my mind, but looking up this word and finding out more about it has been interesting.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Always"watching" said:

turn to my European roots and change to the "calibre" spelling? 

 

 

Great post, thank you.

Turning to my own European roots (or, more accurately, predilections) I an faced with a dilemma  --  "calibre" en Français ou "Kaliber" auf Deutsch.

Owning no British watches, I tend to go literal, using "calibre" for watches emanating from la Suisse Romande, And "Kaliber" for watches from German speaking areas. Nobody has yet pointed out the anomaly :whistle:

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As a prolific reader, I've more often seen these nouns spelt the -'tre', or -'bre' way. Therefore, I always spell them the same way, ie. Metre, litre, spectre, calibre, fibre, mitre, lustre, sceptre, etc. I guess there's no right or wrong way, it's just down to whether you prefer the 'English' way or the 'American' way.

 

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32 minutes ago, Francis Urquhart said:

I learned from the excellent 'History of the English Language ' podcast that in the aftermath of their independence from Britain, the Americans deliberately set about changing the way in which they spell words as a manifestation of their new freedom. 

Noah Webster was heavily involved in that action.

Oxford dictionary, anyone?:biggrin:

32 minutes ago, Francis Urquhart said:

I learned from the excellent 'History of the English Language ' podcast that in the aftermath of their independence from Britain, the Americans deliberately set about changing the way in which they spell words as a manifestation of their new freedom. 

Noah Webster was heavily involved in that action.

Oxford dictionary, anyone?:biggrin:

32 minutes ago, Francis Urquhart said:

I learned from the excellent 'History of the English Language ' podcast that in the aftermath of their independence from Britain, the Americans deliberately set about changing the way in which they spell words as a manifestation of their new freedom. 

Noah Webster was heavily involved in that action.

Oxford dictionary, anyone?:biggrin:

32 minutes ago, Francis Urquhart said:

I learned from the excellent 'History of the English Language ' podcast that in the aftermath of their independence from Britain, the Americans deliberately set about changing the way in which they spell words as a manifestation of their new freedom. 

Noah Webster was heavily involved in that action.

Oxford dictionary, anyone?:biggrin:

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Thanks everyone. Most interesting.:thumbsup:

I can say that I have never been challenged in my use of American spelling for the word calibre/caliber, and it seems that @rhaythorne and I share how we use the different spellings.

I have a feeling that I will continue as before, after all, as @Roger the Dodger suggests, "it's just down to whether you prefer the 'English' way or the 'American' way."

 

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21 hours ago, yokel said:

Nobody has yet pointed out the anomaly :whistle:

It would only be obviously anomalous if you referred to, say, a Lip Kaliber; however, in your posts, the linguistic association to the place of manufacture is fairly clear, and pleasant to read.  It doesn't go unnoticed.

Edited by Jet Jetski
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22 hours ago, Perlative Cernometer said:

Or Noah Webstre as he was formerly known.

Despite the ongoing forum glitches, he was a Webster, and one that removed much of the French nomenclature  from the American version of English. The hateful b1tch started a trend that seems irreversible. Until the "British" joined in and complied.:laugh::laugh:

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On 09/06/2021 at 15:35, Always"watching" said:

Thanks everyone. Most interesting.:thumbsup:

I can say that I have never been challenged in my use of American spelling for the word calibre/caliber, and it seems that @rhaythorne and I share how we use the different spellings.

I have a feeling that I will continue as before, after all, as @Roger the Dodger suggests, "it's just down to whether you prefer the 'English' way or the 'American' way."

 

I suppose I can live with the '-bre', '-tre' conundrum, but the ones that do annoy me, are '-our' words spelt without the 'u' . Ie. colour/color, labour/labor, neighbour/neighbor. The ultimate one that cringes me is the American way of spelling and pronouncing aluminium, by missing out the last 'i', and pronouncing it al-oo-min-um when everyone knows it's al-you-min-ee-um....:rolleyes:

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My dear @Roger the Dodger, in your list of "-our" words spelt without the 'u', you forgot to mention my first name, "Honour", which is usually spelt "Honor" in the American manner. For me personally, I don't like the missing 'u', and prefer the name to relate to the meaningful British word, "honour".:biggrin:

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That's most interesting, @rhaythorne, and it goes back to what I said in my original thread-head that the so-called "American" spelling of caliber was used frequently in British writings until the modern spellings took hold. In the same way that I prefer the spelling "calibre" when used to denote a person's "worth", I also prefer the spelling "Honour" for my name, taking my cue from the French word, "honneur" where the "u" is preserved. I trust you approve of my decision; oh, and I have also decided to carry on using the word "caliber" as spelt the "American" way when denoting clock/watch movements.:biggrin:

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@Always"watching" Do you know about Google's Ngram, where you can track the frequency of usage of words across time? It's limited to what Google can see in print, but these days that's quite a lot. For example, Calibre vs Caliber.

image.png.39efe88ba9380b1c80f842b6056efb7e.png

That's all English. If you go for British English, calibre always wins, although the gap has closed a lot recently.

image.png.d1ccd50b0eed1f23231b53abce07a099.png

In American English there's a crossover around 1890.

image.png.9e93eec3917b4585821ca59f20cc78b2.png

And here's honour vs honor in proper English :biggrin:

image.png.2af292b2d163922d465636c4d47e502e.png

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