Writing for Business

Nov 30 2012   3:30PM GMT

threshold or threshhold?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore


Which is correct?
The Scottish tradition of first-footing involves being the first person to step across a friend or neighbor’s _______ after midnight on January 1.
a. threshold
b. threshhold

Answer: a.


Oddly enough, I was inclined to think that threshhold must be the correct spelling because last month I discovered that withhold is correct, rather than withold. If you double the h in one, I thought, you probably double it in both. But no, it’s withhold and threshold. So, um, I was wrong both times. Just one more of those little idiosyncrasies that make English such a challenging language — even for native speakers.

A threshold, by the way, is a point of entry, a barrier that must be crossed. Specifically, it’s a door sill, although the meaning has generalized. According to folklore etymology, it was originally two words, thresh hold, meaning a barrier holding in the chaff flooring. A good story, but according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, thresh originally meant to tread, so it’s probably more akin to a stair tread.

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6  Comments on this Post

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  • weejus

    Actually, Thresh had (and has) multiple meanings:

    1. The act of separating grain seed from stalk, as in the verb "threshing". Before mechanical threshers, this was done by walking or treading on the stalks by a human or animal.

    2. The left-over stalk after threshing. The chaf is the technically the seed hull remnants, and the Thresh is the left-over stalk.

    Threshing was done in the late fall, after harvest and just before winter. The leftover thresh was then placed over the dirt floor inside the home to act as an isulator and to absorb normal dat-to-day detrius. A wooden span was placed at the bottom of the door to keep the weather out and the thresh in, and was thus termed a thresh-hold. Over time this became a single word, threshhold. I don't know when the second "h" was removed. Personally, I think it should be put back, but I'm kinda weird that way.

    10 pointsBadges:
  • MikeRisk
    Rushes, notably Sweet Flag, were strewn about the floor to mop up Medieval messes. The piece of lathing on the floor by the door was "the rush hold"-and the rest is history.
    10 pointsBadges:
  • pedant
    You spelt "neighbour" incorrectly!
    20 pointsBadges:
  • Noahbody


    "Detrius" is not a word.  "Detritus" is the word you want.

    10 pointsBadges:
  • PokiP8
    So, I don't understand - if there is no argument that the word was originally two words, "thresh hold", why then, when it is contracted into a single word, is one of the "h"s dropped?  Especially when you just explained that the "h" is not dropped in an equivalent situation - in "withheld"?!?!?!?!
    20 pointsBadges:
  • PokiP8
    And, if you are inclined to say, "it's just one more of those little idiosyncrasies of English", I don't accept.  The answer should be that both spellings are acceptable.
    20 pointsBadges:

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