Donut vs. Doughnut: One Treat, Two Spellings

Who doesn’t love a good donut or doughnut? Wait, what’s the difference? The answer is more simple than it may appear at first glance. Explore the origins and spellings of this sweet treat and whether you should write donut or doughnut.

Donut - American flag vs Doughnut - British flag Donut - American flag vs Doughnut - British flag
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Which Is Correct: Doughnut vs. Donut?

So which is the right spelling? The answer is both doughnut and donut are correct. In short, they are two different spellings for the same thing. However, some brand names such as Dunkin’ Donuts and events like National Donut Day clearly favor one spelling over the other. On the other hand, Krispy Kreme favors the doughnut spelling. But why?

This is an example of phonetic-based spelling reform. Phonetics refers to spelling words based on how they sound. Some words are pronounced the way they look, while others have silent letters or spelling exceptions. So while doughnut is the widely accepted spelling, donut is equally correct and the more popular spelling in the U.S.

Official Uses of Doughnut and Donut

In addition to official brands using different spellings, style guides also differ on the preferred spelling of donut vs. doughnut. The AP Stylebook lists doughnut as the preferred spelling. Merriam Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), however, use both spellings. The OED notes that generally, donut is the preferred American English spelling and doughnut is the favored British English spelling.

How the Doughnut Came to Be

Doughnut is a compound word consisting of dough and nut. Why use the word nut? One explanation is that a nut resembles a lump of dough. The other is that in the 19th century, a woman named Elizabeth Gregory deep-fried dough and put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center.

As for how doughnuts got their holes, you might thank Elizabeth Gregory's son. According to legend, her son Hanson Gregory recommended taking out the center of the doughnut entirely in order for the dough to cook through. Others suggest the hole was created so the pastries could keep longer and be brought along on long journeys. In any case, most doughnuts now have holes in the center.

Origins of Doughnut

The doughnut's journey is full of unexpected twists and details that are often glazed over. Notably, doughnuts were not originally called doughnuts. The true origin of doughnuts likely goes back much further. Archeologists discovered what appeared to be a form of doughnuts in prehistoric Native American settlements. Many millennia later, the term doughnut originated from Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (which later became Manhattan, New York) who called them olykoeks, which means “oils cakes.”

The first doughnut machine was invented in 1920 in New York City by a Russian immigrant. By the 1930s, doughnuts were being advertised across the U.S. and Krispy Kreme was established in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Today doughnuts — or donuts if you prefer — are enjoyed all over the world.

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Other Uses of Doughnut

Besides being the favorite treat of many, doughnut can refer to spinning in a circle. For example, a car or person spinning could be called “doing doughnuts.” Doughnut can also refer to any kind of ring-shaped object with a hole in it.

Words to Sprinkle in Your Writing

Sweeten your writing with these words that have multiple spellings. Sometimes they are spelled differently because of differences between American and British English. Explore terms like catalog and catalogue and more to spice up your vocabulary of words that can be spelled in more than one way.