Feature Article
    The “c” in dietitians – a long history and fading future (maybe)
    Vol. 17 Issue 2
    The correct or preferable spelling of Dietitians, has been a long-standing matter for the profession of Dietetics. In the early 1960s dietetic associations, under the auspices of the International Committee of Dietetic Associations (ICDA), worked together to standardize information about Dietitians under the International Standard Classification of Occupations. When the International Labour Office confirmed the dietetic profession’s classification in 1967, it also adopted the spelling “dietitian” at the request of the international dietetic community. This information can be found in the documentation held by ICDA and by the International Labour Office (ILO).

    Recently the ILO has issued new documents spelling dietitians as ‘dietician’. It seems the matter has not been permanently put to rest. From our research into the development of language and dictionaries, we have learned that the evolution of words and spelling is not a simple matter.

    History of ‘dietitian’ and the variant ‘dietician’
    Spelling of dietitian with a “c” does not pre-date spelling as ‘dietitian’ which first appeared in print in 1846. The variant spelling "dietician," is found in print in a 1917 issue of Nation and in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1906. The origin is an evolution of physician specializing in diet – dietician. Merriam-Webster has a letter from a professional editor dated May 5, 1923, in which it is stated that "I never find any other spelling of this word than c-spelling. Hospitals and nurses invariably write it 'dietician’.” This statement is supported by a review of early published literature. Merriam-Webster has gone on to say to us that, “Admittedly, today's members of the professional community of dietitians do read "dietician” as a misspelling, and one would be hard-pressed to find an example of that spelling in publications put out by that community.”

    Can we not correct the source of this annoyance?
    According to Merriam-Webster, a leading producer of dictionaries, dictionary inclusions are based on word usage. The usage of dietitian spelled with a “c” is long standing and has become more common as the use of computer spell-check systems has increased and as the body of literature referring to dietitians has increased. Spellings, of course vary by country, as common words are often spelled differently from one English speaking country to the next. As an example, the Microsoft spell-check only recognizes the variant of dietitian with a ‘c’ in the English Canada version but in the USA both forms of the word are recognized.

    We have addressed concerns over the proper spelling of dietitian, over many years, with some limited success. Recent correspondence from Merriam Webster offers some comfort, “You may be happy to hear that research for your correspondence has alerted us to the fact that "dietician" may not be used as often, or as equally often, as "dietitian." (Perhaps because of the combined efforts of dedicated professional dietitians like yourself.) If this turns out to be the case upon further review, we will label the variant spelling with "also" instead of "or" when we next revise our dictionaries. "Also" implies that although the variant exists it is not as commonly used as the main entry spelling. So you might consider such a change a small victory on your part.” Recent correspondence from Microsoft offers further assurance … “we have forwarded your concerns to Houghton Mifflin Company, who are the third-party provider of our spell-checker’s dictionary. We trust that they will perform the required due diligence to accommodate the changes you are requesting.”

    The above replies are encouraging, yet we will not be spending less time correcting the spelling of dietitians anytime soon. It will continue to be important to use both versions in your literature search strategies. The dictionaries used in spell-checking applications are not frequently updated and once changed a further period of time would need to pass before a majority of users have applications with the updated dictionary.

    Marsha Sharp
    CEO, Dietitians of Canada
    Director – ICDA Board