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Feb 7 2013   5:25PM GMT

Font of wisdom or fount of wisdom?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Once upon a time, the CIO was considered the ____ of all wisdom, at least in terms of technology.
a. fount
b. font

Answer: Either.

Explanation:
Fount is short for fountain as a spring flows from the earth; metaphorically, it refers to a continuous source of something or other. A font, in this context, is more of a reservoir, like the baptismal font. So, although the original expression was “fount of all wisdom,” either works, depending on whether you consider someone to be an eternal source of wisdom or just a sort of holding tank for it. In either case, we often use “fount of all wisdom” sarcastically, implying that they may not be quite as wise as they are deemed to be.

I thought of writing this post because I referred to George Bush as a fount of malapropisms and other errors yesterday in a conversation on Twitter and then wondered about the relationship between the words fount and font.

They both derive from the Latin fons for fountain but came different routes:

From Merriam-Webster:
Fount: Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin font-, fons, from Latin, fountain
Font: Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin font-, fons, from Latin, fountain

I’m inclined toward fount, myself, but as Maeve Maddox wrote in her post Fount of Wisdom, “Do you see the figurative source of wisdom or information as a welling spring of water, or as a filled basin? I’ll stick with fount, but I’d hesitate to fault the speaker/writer who goes with font.”

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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