The Grammarphobia Blog

Lozenge or lozenger?

Q: This sets my teeth on edge: Why is it that so many people, especially in the NY area, say “lozenger” instead of “lozenge”?  Isn’t this incorrect?

A: The sweetened, medicated tablet is spelled “lozenge” and pronounced LAH-zinj in standard English, according to dictionaries in the US and the UK.

However, the Oxford English Dictionary says a variant spelling, “lozenger” (pronounced LAH-zin-jer), is present in the US and northern England.

The OED describes this variant as dialectal—that is, a regional or social variation from standard English.

The Dictionary of American Regional English says the variant is present in various parts of the US, though chiefly in the Northeast.

Although most DARE examples of the usage are from New England and the Middle Atlantic states, the regional dictionary has quite a few citations from other parts of the US, including Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, and Ohio.

The DARE editors suggest that the American usage may have crossed the pond with speakers of Scottish English and regional dialects in England.

The ultimate source, though, may be an obsolete usage that the OED traces to the early 1500s, when the term “lozenger” was apparently used to describe a diamond-shaped, four-sided figure—the original sense of the word “lozenge.”

However, Oxford has only one written example of this early usage, from a 1527 will in which the word is spelled “losinger.”

As for “lozenge” used in its geometric sense, the OED defines it as “a plane rectilineal figure, having four equal sides and two acute and two obtuse angles.”

The dictionary has several questionable citations dating from the early 1300s. The first clear example is from “The House of Fame,” a poem by Chaucer written around 1384: “Somme crouned were as kinges, / With crounes wroght ful of losenges.”

As we’ve said, the term “lozenger,” as well as the pronunciation LAH-zin-jer, isn’t standard English. But it’s common enough that the first item to come up when we googled the word was a Vicks ad for cough drops and similar products.

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