Yesterday’s STC Carolina Chapter event got me wondering: Is it open mike or open mic? I’ve seen it spelled both ways. So I checked my dictionary, which lists mike as the preferred spelling, and mic as a variant. Other dictionaries I consulted didn’t include mic at all. Still unsatisfied, I checked Bryan A. Garner’s Dictionary of Modern American Usage (1998 edition). Garner argues, “Whereas mike more immediately suggests the pronunciation, mic more immediately suggests the longer form. All in all, mic might be considered preferable.”
When faced with a situation where dictionaries and style guides disagree, I’m inclined to follow the style guide. After all, dictionaries are tasked with documenting what usage is, and style guides with what usage ought to be. So the next question I ask is, which spelling is more readable? Unfortunately, in this case, I find both spellings jarring, especially when divorced from the word open:
Turn up the mike’s volume.
Step back from the mic to avoid feedback.
Given that both spellings are informal anyway, perhaps the best approach generally is to spell out microphone except in dialogue and quotations, and reserve the short form for spoken language. But open microphone just won’t do. Spelling out the full word in a common colloquialism sounds pedantic.
So the next question is, who’s the audience? Most audiences won’t care, and if they question your spelling, they’ll consult a dictionary. So use mike. But an audience of writers may care, and like Bryan Garner, they may be unimpressed by the dictionary’s capitulation to sound over sense. It comes down to personal preference. You’re probably safe either way, as long as you’re consistent. Keep in mind, though, that the masses will win out eventually. When it comes to spelling, they always do.
7 thoughts on ““Open Mike” or “Open Mic”?”
Vince tells me that if you use mike instead of mic in the audio and electronics community, you’ll “get flamed big time.” Thanks for the tip, Vince!
Here is a tirade you may enjoy. (I care about this, because I also run a weekly open mike show, as you can see from my website.)
Thanks for sharing the link—I enjoyed your tirade! Your argument is very well reasoned, and I’m inclined to agree with it. Surely no one is out there arguing for “nuc” instead of “nuke.”
The point about “mic” being used as an abbreviation in AV components is a good argument in favor of using it as a written abbreviation for microphone in that context. But it doesn’t argue in favor of using it as the spelling of the word when used in speech.
Thanks for the kind words, Andrea. Just to be clear, “my website” is the one that shows my Open Mike promotional postcard, when you hover over my name. The “Mike, dammit” tirade was written by another gentleman, and I found it while searching for commentary on this issue.
I can’t take credit for his writing or arguments, but like you, I inclined to agree with much of what he wrote.
LOL, I seem to have dropped a word from my previous comment!
“Mike” makes no sense at all from any point of view except illiteracy. Mike is the name of a guy, “mic” is an abbreviation of microphone; and an open mic is an open microphone. Using Mike, and accepting it as the right spelling, is akin to a future victory of the popular illiterate Facebook writers winning out on the spelling of “you’re” as “your.”
(IE, just because an illiterate majority uses the incorrect spelling, it does not make it right.)
Thanks for your comment. I can’t really argue for “mike” being illiterate or incorrect, given that it’s the dictionary spelling. Language is an organism, not a science. The masses will win out, regardless of whether the prescriptivists agree.