Latest posts by Michael Morgenstern, MD (see all)
Emma, the 8th grader from Long Island, stood nervously at the podium and began to spell sleep apnoea. “S-L-E-E-P” she thought for a second and continued, “A-P-N-O-E-A, sleep apnoea” said Emma, the finalist contestant wearing number 30 at the championship round of the NY State Regional Spelling Bee. She nervously awaited the moderators response. The moderator took a second, paused looking down at his index card, sighed, and said “I’m sorry that is incorrect.” Contestant number 30 was not happy. She paused, and said, “no, I’m positive. There are two spellings, it says so on Wikipedia. I chose the latter because you said the origin was Latin.” Emma was heartbroken and left the stage in tears.1
Sleep apnea is not spelled “sleep apnoea” in American English. A Wikipedia entry on sleep apnea says that it may be spelled “sleep apnoea.” That is true if you are in the United Kingdom. Not in American English, which refers to spelled and spoken language in the United States. The term “apnea” is derived from the greek language “apnoia” or “apnous” which means breathless. This same language is adopted in modern Latin as “apnoea.” The usage of “apnoea” is the spelling of British English. It is used in the United Kingdom and sometimes in Europe. But using that spelling in the United States would be incorrect. I apologise in advance to anyone who feels that I am criticising Wikipedia in a biassed, colourful, or dramatised manner. For those who consider this to be less than honourable, I am sorry. Considering so many volunteers labour to keep Wikipedias content easily manoeuvrable, that is really an honourable task. I don’t mean to trivialise Wikipedia by scrutinising it or unfairly demonising it for saying sleep apnea can be spelled “sleep apnoea.” I do apologise for this colourful diatribe. In their defence, they do a similar thing for definitions of fetus saying it can also be “spelled foetus” and for etiology where they offer it may be called “alternatively aetiology or ætiology.” Perhaps in their article on sleep apnea, suggesting the “alternative apnoea” rather than saying “apnea” can also be spelled “apnoea” or differentiating usage in England where “sleep apnoea” is proper as opposed to in the United States, where “sleep apnea” is the correct spelling, might be preferable. It might have saved Emma1 some unnecessary grief.
Another possible solution is for Wikipedia to utilize technology to adapt the spelling of apnea by auto-detecting the location of a user. That way if a reader is from the USA, they can display “sleep apnea.” If they are from the UK, they can use the alternate version of “sleep apnoea.” This type of technology is commonly used already on the internet.
By the way, if you didn’t notice the words used above may also be spelled: apologize, criticize, biased, colorful, dramatized, honorable, labor, maneuverable, trivialize, scrutinize, demonize, defense when using the alternative American English spelling. I have summarized the differences in the regional spelling of these words in the table below:
|British English||American English|
1. I am certain you figured this one out but the spelling bee event on sleep apnoea is a fictional story. Perhaps this story did happen somewhere, just not in this instance.
A post regarding problems with the Sleep Apnea Wikipedia Page and problems with Wikipedia’s organization leading to below quality health articles about sleep apnea among other topics.
There are a lot of serious mistakes written on Wikipedia about Sleep Apnea. This sleep apnea fact checker page has begun by closely analyzing some of the errors on Wikipedia’s sleep apnea page. Are statements made true, false or incomplete, misleading or inaccurate? (The plan is over time for this page to expand to include other websites as well).
Happy holidays from all of us at the American Sleep Apnea Society. Best wishes for a happy and healthy new year, free of sleep apnea or any other ailment:)