All the coverage of the Space Shuttle Endeavour’s ongoing cross-country farewell tour made me wonder, naturally, about the ou spelling in its final syllable. It turns out it was named–u and all–after the first ship commanded by the eighteenth-century English explorer James Cook. It’s not a natural spelling for us Yanks, hence this mistake in a sign some well-meaning NASA folk constructed to cheer on a 2005 launch:

Despite the shuttle’s fame, the u-less spelling (indicated by the red line on this Ngram chart, showing use of both spellings in American English between 1800 and 2008) remains a strong preference on these shores, as it has been since 1850:

10 thoughts on ““Endeavour”

  1. Thanks for posting that, Ben – I’ve been explaining this to folk(s?) for while now. But I’ve a question: is it “in” the sign” or “on” it?


      1. Not sure really. I would say “on the sign” too but in the post (above) “in” is used – hence my question. I imagine that a sign may be considered a container in that it might comprise symbols and words so “in” could be correct too. No biggy.

        Thanks for the blog – I thoroughly enjoy it!

  2. You’ve probably already posted about this elsewhere, but I’m pleased to see people calling the # symbol a ‘hash tag’ on Twitter instead of the shudder-inducing ‘pound sign’.

    1. # :
      This symbol is, or was used, at least before I retired, in medicine to indicate a bone fracture. My father, an engineer, used the symbol to indicate “Pounds per square inch” for pressure. And my musical friends use it to indicate a half tone increase (I think)
      I was surprised many years ago, to see its use in North America where its use clearly meant “number” as an alternative to “No”..
      Anyway. I believe all the NASA shuttles were named after famous ships used by intrepid explorers. Endeavour was a British ship as stated above.

  3. For those of a certain age – or a knowledge of the US Apollo moon missions – it should be noted that the command module of Apollo 15 was also called “Endeavour” .

  4. The use of ‘ou’ here reminds me that the US sports kit manufacturer Under Armour uses the British spelling – any idea why this is the case?

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