Everyone enjoys a doughnut every now and then—glazed, powdered, sprinkled, jelly filled. It’s hard not to love them.
But what’s the correct spelling for this tasty treat? Is it doughnut or donut?
How to Spell Doughnut, Donut
The official dictionary spelling of the word is doughnut with donut generally being listed as a variant of the preferred original spelling.
Doughnut is the original spelling of the word, coming onto the scene in the early 1800s. The Oxford English Dictionary lists Washington Irving’s reference to doughnuts in his 1809 History of New York as the first published use of the word.
“An enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.”
Describing what we now call doughnut holes, Irving put this word into the English lexicon.
First Appearances of Donut
Donut, an American variant, first appeared in the late 1800s as a contraction of the original spelling. The shortened spelling didn’t immediately catch on, however, and remained mostly dormant until midway through the 20th century.
Since the founding of the successful American doughnut chain Dunkin’ Donuts, this spelling has increased steadily and rapidly.
The below graph shows just how popular donut has become in such a short amount of time.
Dunkin’ Donuts was founded in 1950, and, as you can see in the above graph, that is precisely when the use of donut first started to pick up steam. Ten years later in 1960 it went up like a rocket.
What is More Common: Donut or Doughnut?
Even with the worldwide popularity of Dunkin’ Donuts, doughnut is much more common to see in print in American English and especially British English.
The above chart segments just American English uses of donut vs. doughnut, and it’s clear that the traditional doughnut is the preferred choice among writers.
This preference is even more pronounced in British English (see below).
British writers favor doughnut much more than American writers do, probably because donut is an American invention.
The difference between the popularity of donut in America vs. Great Britain speaks to just how much of an effect Dunkin’ Donuts, an American company, has had on the spelling of this word.
What Should You Do?
Although both spellings are acceptable, many style guides prefer the traditional doughnut, a preference that is also supported by popular usage.
For example, the AP Stylebook and Garner’s Modern American Usage both list doughnut as the preferred spelling.
Garner’s states that donut or worse yet do-nut “should be reserved for eatery names and advertising,” not the world of publishing.
Given this popular sentiment, I would advise to stick with the traditional spelling doughnut—especially if you are a writer outside of the United States. Donut is a chiefly American creation, and you might get some strange looks elsewhere for using it.
National Doughnut Day or National Donut Day: A Brief History
This confusion between doughnut vs. donut gets even more tricky considering the fact that, in America, there is a National Doughnut Day.
Since this isn’t a governmentally recognized holiday, there is no “official” spelling of the day. Still, many restaurants, bakeries, and doughnut shops celebrate the day the first Friday in June.
And for those unfamiliar with the day itself or the history behind it, National Doughnut Day actually has an interesting, patriotic past.
The day first began in 1938 as a campaign by the Salvation Army to honor their members who served doughnuts to soldiers during World War I. During WWI, roughly 250 Salvation Army volunteers went to France to provide freshly baked goods for the Allied troops. Given the difficulties of providing such goods from makeshift huts in abandoned buildings, two volunteers came up with the idea to serve doughnuts, which were reported to have been an “instant hit” among the troops, with many soldiers actively visiting the Salvation Army huts for doughnuts.
Margaret Sheldon, a Salvation Army volunteer wrote of one busy day: “Today I made 22 pies, 300 doughnuts, 700 cups of coffee.” The women who volunteered, like Ms. Sheldon, came to be known by the servicemen as “Doughnut Dollies.”
Whether you’re referring to doughnuts or donuts, it’s important to stay consistent. Pick one spelling and stick with it.
Doughnut is the original, generally preferred spelling of the word. It is more common in the United States and vastly more common internationally.
Donut is an Americanized, shortened version of donut that isn’t incorrect, but it is much less common. Most publications opt for doughnut.