Teepee or Tipi? Get Used to an Alternate Spelling!


Those of us who grew up around the golden age of the Western remember the teepee as those conical-shaped Native American dwellings.

You may feel a sense of surprise to learn that there’s more than one way to spell teepee. Some sources spell it with only three Es instead of four, as tepee.

Merriam-Webster defines the teepee as a variant of the spelling tepee.

The word entered the English language in 1743 as ti pee, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The OED traces the origin of words we use every day to determine where they came from and when they arrived.

It defines the ti pee as coming from the Siouan term thipi. (Yes, there’s a third spelling.)  

“But wait,” as they say in informercials. “There’s more!”

The Associated Press Stylebook, which serves as a style manual that most journalists follow for consistency in shared reporting, added this listing in its 2022-2024 edition:

tipi (not teepee) A traditional dwelling among Native Americans in the northern Great Plains region.

The tipi was historically made of animal hides or pelts or even canvas stretched over a framework of wooden poles. Indigenous peoples — Native Americans — of the Great Plains and Canadian Prairies of North America used them. Some groups west of the Rocky Mountains also used them. 

You can find modern tipi manufacturers, believe it or not.

Some modern tipis allow people to take camping to the next level. They call it “glamping,” and here are some examples of glamping-style tipips

Teepee, tepee, thipi, ti pee or tipi?

How on earth did we dig up five spellings for such a simple little word? If we drop all but the two most modern versions, that would most likely leave us with a choice between teepee or tipi.

Teepee seems to be the phonetic spelling, while tipi seems to be the more officially-accepted spelling.

National Geographic says its own style manual prefers tipi as the correct spelling.

It appears that teepee, tepee and tipi are all valid variants.

But when it comes to style manuals, you sometimes must follow their convention rather than your own personal preference. That’s why many journalists will spell it tipi, while other writers may use one of the other two most common spellings.

Just remember to check with your style guide to determine which one is correct for you.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 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.