Google and Vocativ recently paired up to investigate which words people have trouble spelling. They released a list of the most problematic terms by state based on search data, and the word grey appeared a staggering twelve times. So is grey incorrect?
Grey and gray are both accepted in the English language. They refer to a color of a neutral tone between black and white, and can also be used metaphorically to convey gloom and dullness. However, gray is the more popular spelling in the US, while grey reigns supreme in the UK. For centuries, the one letter difference between gray and grey has left people wondering if the two have different meanings.
Both spellings evolved from the Old English term grǣg and have retained their primary definition as a color, but many people have sought to assign gray and grey to slightly different shades. For instance, in his work Chromatography; or, a Treatise on Colours and Pigments, and of their Powers in Painting published in 1835, the chemist George Field wrote that gray “denotes a class of cool cinereous colours in which blue predominates,” while Field reserves grey to describe a more neutral shade. However, such nuanced distinctions are not observed in popular usage today.
EL James’s best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey, along with the blockbuster film of the same name released earlier this year, may have contributed to increased uncertainty about how to spell the term in recent years.
Rest assured that when it comes to the tones between black and white, both grey and gray are acceptable spellings in the English language. If you do find yourself trying to remember which side of the pond uses which spelling more often, keep in mind this mnemonic trick: England begins with an e, while America begins with an a.