Q&A: Speciality vs specialty

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 covering our specialty subject…

Q: Hi AWC, I have a question about tea and doctors.

A: Oh really. Is this Earl Grey’s Anatomy?

Q: We’ll make the terrible jokes around here thank you very much.

A: Sorry.

Q: That’s okay. Now, it’s about something common to both of them.

A: Um, they…ah… both have bags?

Q: Nope.

A: Er… they both make you feel better?

Q: That’s not bad. But no. Last guess.

A: Okay. Well, they both offer standard boxed types and more herbal varieties?

Q: Cute, but no. Fun game though. We’ll play again later.

A: Oh great.

Q: My question was about the word “specialty” – as in “specialty teas” or a doctor that has obstetrics as her “specialty”.

A: Aha – great. These questions are just our speciality.

Q: Wait, you wrote “speciality” with an extra “i”. So are you saying that both mean the same thing?

A: Both “specialty” and “speciality” are the same in describing a tea or someone on a quiz show with a “specialty/speciality subject”…

Q: Well this is all very confusing.

A: We’re sorry, have you and English not been introduced?

Q: Haha. Point taken.

A: Let’s continue. Those examples we gave were adjectives. But it’s also a noun. For example: “These questions are my specialty/speciality.” OR “The fashion label’s specialty/speciality is taffeta dresses”…

Q: Whoa, the 1980s called and wants your prom dress back.

A: Another example might be a restaurant that serves a number of local specialties/specialities.

Q: So if they mean the same thing, how do I choose which to use?

A: Geography. The US is naturally a fan of the shorter version – using “specialty” for everything. Meanwhile, the UK like to add a little more “i” candy – favouring “speciality” for both nouns and adjectives.

Q: And Australia?

A: Macquarie Dictionary lists both spellings – but it would seem Australians tend to follow the Americans with the shorter version. You see it a lot when talking about shopping malls containing 55 “specialty stores”, for example.

Q: What I love is when one of those specialty stores is in fact a SPECIAL TEA specialty store! Hilarious.

A: Quite.

Q: But to recap, you CAN use either?

A: Yes. With one notable exception.

Q: What’s that?

A: It seems that the definition that describes “a branch of medicine or surgery” is becoming universally accepted (even in UK) as the short form “specialty”.Macquarie Dictionary backs this up, although not every dictionary agrees just yet.

Q: Okay. But for everything else, I’m just going to go with how it sounds in my head.

A: Good plan – just try to be consistent.

Q: Thanks, it’s been special. So, got any more things that doctors and tea have in common?

A: They’re both full of caffeine!

Q: Oh, very clever.

A: Would you like to have a try?

Q: Sorry, not my cup of tea.

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like us to explore, reply and tell us all about it.

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