This post is a little different from my usual notes on commonly confused words. Some writers worry about whether they should use despatch or dispatch, but this is an easy dilemma to solve – just pick the spelling you prefer. Both forms are legitimate.
- to send off to a destination; the sending of something or someone to a destination
- to perform or deal with a task or problem quickly and efficiently
- to kill; the killing of something or someone
- an official communication or report
Dispatch is the older form and is often preferred for that reason. It is also the form that, according to Fowler’s, is regarded as ‘etymologically more correct’. Despatch is a variant that is usually traced back to Samuel Johnson; his dictionary of 1755 listed the des- form despite Johnson himself always using the dis- form. It is therefore thought that the spelling despatch was originally an error.
However, it is now completely acceptable to use either form – although the use of despatch is often associated with British English.
(But I prefer dispatch.)
- Collins English Dictionary, 2011
- Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, ed. Jeremy Butterfield, 2015
- Merriam-Webster Online
- Oxford Dictionaries Online
- The Oxford English Dictionary Online