Fave vs. Fav, A Linguistic Explanation

On Monday afternoon, The New York Times published an article with the following headline: "Save the Fav, Twitter’s Digital Body Language," igniting a debate on Twitter about the proper spelling for the shorthand of Twitter's favorite button. Some people fave, others fav.

The New York Times, it seems, prefers fav, but defaults to faves plural. The Atlantic and The Washington Post have both used "fave" in headlines. But The (Atlantic) Wire says fav. (One of the people quoted in that story, Mat Honan, prefers to fav faves.) Urban Dictionary has entries for both, as does the Oxford English Dictionary. Although, none of the definitions mentions Twitter in particular.

There's no consistency--so what's right? Fast Company reached out to a linguist, who prefers to remain anonymous, for enlightenment. Her thoughts:

Fave is more phonologically right based on English spelling rules. Fav is more true to an abbrev(e?) of the written word because there is no 'e' in it.


We asked the copy desk of The New Yorker to weigh in; will update with comment about this important issue. Like the never-ending GIF pronunciation debate, both are right. Yet, people will continue to debate each spelling's rightness for years to come.

Because even when the debate about the spelling dies down, there's always pronunciation. As Stanford-trained linguist and data scientist Tyler Schnoebelen points out, the missing "e" from "fav" can create some concerns--namely, "of 79 words that end in -ave in the CMU Pronunciation Dictionary, 63% are pronounced like brave, cave, Dave, gave, pave, rave, wave. Or crave." There is always the case of "have," but Schnoebelen says that most people know that that is a "weird" case. "So 'fave' is probably the easiest to indicate what I take to be the predominant pronunciation," he writes in email.

One other possibility exists: that "fav" is like "Mojave." "It's unlikely someone will pronounce it that way," Schnoebelen writes, "although I would love to hear someone do that."

Update, 6:03 p.m.: The New Yorker has picked a favorite! From their copy desk: "We don't have a style on the short form of "to favorite," but if we did we would probably favor 'fave.'"

Update, 10:45 p.m.: It might be a verb noun thing, says linguist and Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer. He likens the debate to "mic" versus "mike." "Some people prefer 'fav' as a noun and 'fave' as a verb, which parallels usage of 'mic' and "miked," he told Fast Company. "This happens with any new technology and the lingo surrounding it. For an earlier case, see '(tele)phone.'" 

- Fave v. Fav