I’ve always been a bit… particular… about the Australian English spelling of “gaol”. As in, not “jail”. I think it’s linked to memories of my childhood when I would read and re-read (and re-read) books about the history of my home town of Grafton that had a multitude of references to Grafton Gaol.

And those stunning Jacarandas.

As the world gets smaller and smaller, Australia’s turning more and more to American English-spelling. Makes sense when you consider how big America is (and how much I enjoy perving on their President), but American English is still a breakaway from real English!

Whenever I see a news article online using “jail”, I call them on the spelling. I’ve done it on SMH, ABC Online, and SBS News’ Twitter account. I never get a reply.

Earlier this year I read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue and now I’m even more determined to not let American English take over:


We’re not America, FFS. Let’s spell it “gaol” and not “jail”, okay?

* My sub-editor has pointed out that we speak English, not Australian (or American, etc.). Blah blah blah. You get the gist of what I mean, right?

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6 thoughts on “It’s Gaol, not Jail

  1. Nup, I fall into the language evolution camp. One day, there will be no apostrophes and all the their, they’re and theres will be ‘there’.


    But I’m a nerd and prefer “descriptive” grammar over “prescriptive”. So long as it’s working, and there is an accurate message being conveyed, then it’s fine by me :p

    (though extra apostrophes kill me – I am all for them being removed completely rather than being used to reflect something that’s not there)

    Posted on 18 July 2009 at 8:49 am
  2. Completely agree. Seeing it spelt jail over gaol rather frustrates me. Saw on an episode of RBT last night, a male was sentenced to jail. If it confused them so, the least they could do is refer to it as prison instead.

    Posted on 22 June 2011 at 5:51 am
  3. You cite “real English” but you don’t give us a definition of it. If “real English” existed, it would be UK English. But in UK the most common spelling is “jail”.

    Posted on 9 December 2011 at 6:23 pm
  4. I laugh when people say there is such a thing as “Australian spelling”. It’s just British spelling, nothing more nothing less.
    How come the “anti Americans” come out when there is even a hint of it (Americanism); however when the Aussie media uses obviously British “slang” (i.e. supergrass or naff), not a peep is heard from you navel (or should I say, nasal glazers) gazers?. Most of the Aussie’s I’ve quizzed about the term “supergrass” seem to think its some sort of lawn improver!!! None had even heard of its relative term “grass” or the phrase “to grass on” (dob in) – whats wrong with Superdobber??

    Posted on 26 April 2012 at 9:35 am
  5. Back in the early 80’s I did a prison sentence in an NT prison in the Darwin beachside suburb of Fannie Bay.
    I vividly remember being driven through the gates and it said
    Strewth and crikey folks, it’s a GAOL.
    Read the names in this long list of Aussie prisons.
    There aint a mention of a jail

    Posted on 3 July 2012 at 8:25 pm
  6. ‘Wiki says of ‘Jacaranda’ that the word is derived from a Portuguese word. Therefore, it is (linguistically), Spanish/Latin. In Florida (close to the Latin parts of the America’s) it is pronounced ‘Hack-aranda’… just as ‘Jesus’ is pronounced ‘Hay-zoose’. Similarly, Jose is not ‘Josie’… it is ‘Ho-zay’. I think they could be right with ‘Hack-aranda’.

    Posted on 1 August 2012 at 2:57 pm