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.