strait » straight

Chiefly in:   straightjacket, straight-laced, Straight(s) of X

Classification: English – nearly mainstream

Spotted in the wild:

  • “…loosening a few strings of the economic straightjacket” (John Fischer, Harper's, July 1972)
  • “… showed up a straight-laced … church” (Dennis Farney, Wall Street Journal, 12 Nov. 1981)
  • “On the west, however, rise the Rocky Mountains, that immense range which, commencing at the Straights of Magellan, follows the western coast of Southern …” (link)
  • “… Northumberland Strait (X6-5) and the Straight of Belle Isle (X3-4, which was undoubtedly poorly sampled); Chaleur Bay (X6-4) was also significantly …” (link)

Analyzed or reported by:

  • James Cochrane (Between You and I)
  • Paul Brians (Common Errors in English Usage)

The adjective “strait” ‘narrow, tight’ is pretty much restricted in modern English to the two expressions “straitjacket” and “strait-laced”, which most speakers seem to find opaque; its homophone “straight” at least makes some sense, especially in “straight-laced”, where there’s some possible connection to “straight” ‘conventional’. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (from which the two examples above come) notes: “The straight- spellings originated as errors, and they are still regarded as errors by many people [AMZ: Brians and Cochrane among them]. Because of their common occurrence in reputable publications, however, they are recognized as standard variants in almost all current dictionaries.”

Raw Google web hits on 10 April 2005 have the historical “straitjacket” over “straightjacket” by only 2 to 1, roughly (231k to 103k), but the innovative “straight-laced” over “strait-laced” by a similar ratio (104k to 47.8k).

[Added 24 August 2005: David’s comment, below, notes the correct “Straits of Magellan”. But this “strait”, too, very often turns up as “straight”: the Straights of Magellan, the Straight of Belle Isle (oddly paired with Northumberland Strait in the cite above), etc.]

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/04/10 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Jay , 2005/04/17 at 6:28 pm

    Don’t forget “dire straits.” Google shows “straits” is still prevalent, perhaps because of the British band.

  2. 2

    Commentary by Jay , 2005/04/17 at 6:31 pm

    Don’t forget “dire straits.” Google shows “straits” is still prevalent, perhaps because of the British band.

  3. 3

    Commentary by Nigel Pond , 2005/04/21 at 12:56 am

    I don’t understand Jay’s comment — dire straits is 100% correct.


  4. 4

    Commentary by Ben Zimmer , 2005/04/21 at 8:11 am

    Dire straights, on the other hand, would be another example of this eggcorn (as noted by Paul Brians here).

  5. 5

    Commentary by Silouan , 2005/05/16 at 5:16 pm

    Another almost universal straight/strait eggcorn: “Straight and narrow.” That expression makes sense in modern english, but it’s a misquote from the Gospel of Matthew 7:14 “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” [KJV]. “Strait” is used all over the King James Version where we today would say “strict” (cf. Matthew 9:30; Mark 1:43; 3:12; 5:43; et cetera.)

  6. 6

    Commentary by David , 2005/06/03 at 2:41 pm

    …and the Straits of Magellan are the Narrows of Magellan.

  7. 7

    Commentary by laguna3dguy , 2005/07/24 at 10:43 pm

    Consider how many times an error is perpetuated, and because of its “common occurrence in reputable publications”, the improper becomes the proper.

    Is it a shame? Or is it beautiful?

    Language flows. Should we say something if it flows a way we don’t like?
    (I personally refuse to let “EX - Cetera” prevail!)

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