Q&A: Draught vs draft

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are feeling a draft…

Q: Hi AWC, there’s a cold wind coming under the door today, but I’m not sure what to call it.

A: Do you name all your breezes? Perhaps you could call it “Kevin”? Or maybe “Sabrina”?

Q: No, I mean do I call it a “draft” or a “draught”?

A: Oooh, okay. You’ve got wind of a good discussion topic there.

Q: Hilarious. But what’s the answer?

A: Here in Australia, some might be surprised to learn that you spell it “draught”. However, not everything is spelt that way.

Q: Here we go, English at its worst…

A: First, let’s have a quick history lesson. The word “draught” first turned up around the year 1200 – meaning to drag or draw things out. However, around 1500, the variant “draft” appeared, which was promptly gobbled up by the Americans for everything.

Q: Everything?

A: That’s right. In North America, everything from draft beer to the draft under the door is spelt this way. They like to keep things simple.

Q: They really do. Meanwhile, Britain never seems to know if it wants to remain or exit. How appropriate.

A: That’s right – they chose to “write a first draft” but the spelling of “draught” remained for the breeze, as well as draught beer, draughtsman (one who draws up plans) and also a draught horse.

Q: Is that a horse that draws up plans?

A: No, it’s a working horse, e.g. a Clydesdale pulling a plough or a cart.

Q: Oh, there’s also the game of draughts.

A: Well yes, that’s what Americans call checkers.

Q: So here in Australia, what’s the rule?

A: We mostly follow Britain. So it’s a draught under the door, a draught horse and draught beer. However, we’re more likely to get a draftsperson to draw up plans.

Q: That’s because we know that draught horses are rubbish at it.

A: Indeed.

Q: And everything else is “draft”?

A: More or less. So, as we said earlier, you would “write a first draft” or “draft a copy” of something. You’ll also avoid “a military draft” or see a basketballer “picked first in the draft”. And you’ll “draft a payment” through the bank.

Q: Hmmm… I have a lot of friends here in Australia who would’ve thought it was “draft” for that breeze under the door, not “draught”.

A: First, we don’t believe that you have a lot of friends. Second, it’s true that we are heading that way. As Macquarie Dictionary states, “Australian English is tending to follow American usage and to replace draught with draft, whatever the meaning.”

Q: Well, they do have an easier system.

A: Sure, but for now, it’s best to follow the rules as they are.

Q: So draft beer tastes the same as draught beer?

A: Exactly the same. Just a difference of geography.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Yes, just remember that the tall necked animal is spelt “giraffe” in America, but spelt “giraugh” in Britain.

Q: Oh haha, very funny. I’m not going to laff at that…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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