Grammar

Arctic vs Artic: A Big Difference Between the Two

When you’re faced with the decision of arctic vs artic, the one you’re used to saying is probably the wrong one.

Cold weather is on its way to my part of the country, I’m told. By Wednesday night, I should be able to expect wind chills reaching into the 20s. (That’s Fahrenheit, for those of you on the Celsius scale wondering what’s so cold about that.)

I received an email alert about the impending onslaught of cold air and was happy to see that they described an arctic blast.

Arctic refers to the North Pole and the region surrounding it extending into the North American and Eurasian continents. A cold front coming from the far north, even if it doesn’t necessarily come all the way from the North Pole, is colloquially described as an “arctic blast”.

The continent at the South Pole is Antarctica.

Arctic is also one of the most frequently mispronounced words: people tend to drop the first C, pronouncing it artic. There’s no question that artic is easier to pronounce, because the first C in arctic requires an extra stop that prevents the word from rolling off one’s tongue as easily.

But ease of pronunciation is no excuse to use the wrong word when you mean something entirely different. Unfortunately, to be correct, you must select arctic if you’re referring to that northern region of the globe.

It turns out, interestingly enough, that artic is an actual word. More specifically, it’s an informal abbreviation meaning an “articulated lorry”. A lorry is a large truck designed to carry heavy loads. An articulated lorry, in automotive engineering terms, is a truck consisting of a tractor and trailer together as one unit.

Clearly, artic and arctic are in no way interchangeable. But then no one ever said that the right word would always be easy to pronounce!

16 Comments

  1. Patrick, it’s a coincidence that your last name is Phillips because the Phillips 66 oil company sells motor oil called TropArtic. They chose the name because the oil is supposed to provide protection under all temperature conditions. I blame the marketing types at Phillips for spelling it Artic instead of Arctic.

    1. Randall,
      Thanks for pointing that out…I wasn’t aware of it. I guess that could be proof that there’s no relation between this Phillips and those other ones. Ha!

  2. This post shows a shocking lack of knowledge about this word. When it entered English, the spelling was “artic”. No “c” in the first syllable. Hundreds of years later, some Latin-snobs decided the first syllable should have a “c” to more closely match a root Latin word, but they didn’t intend this to be pronounced. These same folks also added the “b” to “det”, giving us “debt” – do you try to awkwardly pronounce the “b” in this word? Spelling pronunciation is often wrong (a good example is the word “often” – people trying too hard to sound smart pronounce the “t”). Years ago most schools carefully taught students that the first “c” in “arctic” was silent, and only uneducated persons pronounced it. It had absolutely nothing to do with “laziness”, it was the correct thing to do. Now the rules have suddenly changed? Nonsense. English has (literally) millions of silent letters, and this is one of them.

    1. Hi, Bobby,
      I’m sorry you find a “shocking lack of knowledge” here.

      Your gripe, however, might be more with the various dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster and McMillan, which show “ark-tik” as the proper pronunciation. While you’re complaining to them, you might consider voicing your concerns over what the long-deceased “Latin-snobs” did or didn’t intend — since you must have somehow dug one up (hopefully not literally) — with the Oxford English Dictionary. Long considered the definitive authority on our language, it lists “ark-tik” as the preferred pronunciation for both British and American English.

      You are correct when you point out that English has a slew of silent letters. The leading authorities on our language, however, don’t seem to agree with you that the first c in Arctic happens to be one of them.

  3. psalm23 It’s more a case of calling a lorry an “artic” if you are distinguishing it from a “rigid” lorry. But generally, a lorry is just a lorry (or even a “wagon” to some).

  4. Good article. I’m just watching the Autumn episode of BBC’s “Earth’s Seasonal Secrets”. It’s a well made documentary but I’m finding narrator Andrew Scott’s mispronunciation of the word “arctic” (spoken as “artic”) very irritating. I said it several times, leading me to doubt myself, but a quick Google search landed me here. Thanks for setting the record straight, Patrick.

  5. nimafarid2007 Language does indeed evolve for various reasons. But that’s not really an excuse to use a word incorrectly…and doing so to attempt to push some eventual alternate spelling for the future can make you look uninformed in the present. That’s why I do these grammar posts. Thanks for reading.

  6. Then again, language in general is just documentation of the way people have been speaking in the past few centuries or so, so if the only thing we hear in the next half decade is Artic, then Artic would be the new right way of saying it. It would be one word with two meanings, like a whole lot of other words.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.