Cops love ’em. Homer Simpson can’t live without them. And now, in honor of National Doughnut Day, let’s talk about how these tasty pastries are spelled. Is it the thorough, doughty doughnut, honoring the dough of their robust rings? Or the humbler donut, more common among certain American pastry chains and lazier spellers?

In a (dough)nutshell, both spellings are correct. Doughnut appears more frequently in published sources, but donut is gaining in popularity, especially in the United States. But there’s more to the debate than that. Let’s get into the nutty-gritty of why that ring-shaped cake fried in fat causes so much controversy.

Where dough they come from?

Folks have been making a fuss over these pastries since an angry baker first poked the middle out of an innocent round bun. Okay, that’s not how doughnuts were born.

In fact, their origin is part of the controversy: the jury’s still out on whether they were invented by an American sailor who punched the greasy, unbaked center out of a traditional pastry; or by Dutch settlers fond of a good oliekoek (literally, oil cake); or by a British baroness, whose 1800 cookbook featured a “dow nut.”

There’s one more shining moment in the history of the doughnut. During World War I, Salvation Army volunteers in France were responsible for providing freshly baked goods to troops on the front lines—not an easy task in wartime. Two volunteers decided to distribute doughnuts, earning themselves the nickname “Doughnut Dollies” (and making the soldiers a whole lot happier).

Spelling? Ugh

Now to the pastry’s main ingredients: the letters that spell the word. The logical spelling is doughnut, because like many a baked good, these guys are made out of dough. But for some, having to write out so many letters brings out an “ugh.”

Still, the -ugh- wasn’t just dropped out of laziness. The donut version showed up as early as the late 1800s. George Peck’s 1900 book Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa is credited as the first published source of the shortened word:

Pa said he guessed he hadn’t got much appetite, and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut.

Pa may have been a trailblazer in 1900, but doughnut remains the more frequent version in most publications today, and the preferred spelling according to style guides like the AP Stylebook and Garner’s Modern American Usage. The latter gives donut a serious dunk, claiming that the simpler spelling “should be reserved for eatery names and advertising.” After all, the advent of Dunkin’ Donuts, with its modern spelling and eye-catching orange and pink, was to become the real culprit in popularizing the shortened spelling after the chain was born in 1950. If “America runs on Dunkin’,” as their slogan claims, it’s no wonder that many Americans are running on the Dunkin’ spelling of donut, too.

The bottom line: the distinction is glazey—er, hazy. Doughnut is technically correct—at least, according to most of the trusty grammar guides out there—but now both spellings are so frequent you can get away with either one.

A sampling of doughnuts:

“Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc., today announced a sweet new line of classic summer treats.” (The New York Times)
(Though it’s tough to fully trust them, with the words “crispy” and “cream” treated so kasually.)

“The Doughnut Project, located in New York City, first introduced the bone marrow doughnut as a limited-edition menu item in October for Meat Week celebration.” (The Daily Meal)

“A German billionaire family has been on a breakfast buying binge. The newest item on its plate: doughnuts.” (The New York Times)

And the donut platter:

“Chris Engelmann and SugaRush Bakery deliver hundreds of donuts, hope and support to those in need in Minneapolis and St. Paul.” (Star Tribune)

“The annual celebration commemorates Salvation Army volunteers who fed donuts to American soldiers during World War I in order to keep troops’ spirits high during wartime.” (KFVS)

Now we’ve taken a bite out of spelling, but it’s harder to explain why cops are supposed to like them so much, whether you do donuts or doughnuts when you drive in circles around an empty parking lot, or why anyone would fill them with jelly.

But at least now you know why, as far as confectionary controversies go, donuts might just take the cake.

Written by Alice E.M. Underwood

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