The Grammarphobia Blog

BBQ, part 2

Q: I had a thought while reading your blog post on the “barbeque” spelling of “barbecue.” I don’t know which came first, but could the variant “q” spelling have developed out of “BBQ”? Thanks for letting me put my two cents in.

A: Thanks for your suggestion. And it’s definitely worth more than two cents.

The earliest citation for “BBQ” in the Oxford English Dictionary is from a 1938 advertisement in the Los Angeles Times: “Rambling Ranch $14,500 – Rail fence and olive trees! Built around a large brick patio with BBQ, wonderful for parties!”

However, the OED has an even earlier example for “Bar BQ.” Here’s the 1926 citation from the Mansfield (Ohio) News: “The Bar BQ Ranch is jest over that rise.”

And a search of the America’s Historical Newspapers databank suggests that an abbreviated form of the word was popular in the late 19th century.

Here’s an intriguing Oct. 4, 1898, snippet from the Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Times: “As to these elaborate preparations for the peace jubilee,” remarked Rivers, “it seems to me that there isn’t any too much time. Whatever is done ought to be done p. d. bar b. q.”

This item seems to be an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune. I guess the Wilkes-Barre editors were amused by the mushing together of “p.d.q.” and “bar b.q.”

As I said in my earlier blog item, the OED doesn’t have any published references for the “barbeque” spelling, but a search of America’s Historical Newspapers finds lots of examples from the early 1920s. Here’s one from an AP article in the Nov. 11, 1922, issue of the Miami Herald Record:

“Mayor J. C. Walton of Oklahoma City, next governor of Oklahoma, today announced plans for a monster inaugural party, the features of which will be a barbeque and old-time square dance at the state house.”

Interestingly, the word is spelled “barbecue” in the headline: “Will Slaughter 300 / Cattle for Barbecue / At His Inauguration.” Perhaps the Associated Press writer preferred one spelling and the Miami editors another, and somehow the AP spelling slipped into the paper. (The current AP style is “barbecue.”)

Could one of the many abbreviated versions of “barbecue” have led to the “barbeque” spelling? I don’t know, but the chronology seems to be right. If I learn more, I’ll let you know.

Buy our books at a local store, Amazon.com, or Barnes&Noble.com.