Why does the USGS use the spelling "gage" instead of "gauge"?

The spelling of “gage” is part of our very rich USGS history. 

In 1888, USGS Director John Wesley Powell met a very forward-thinking graduate student named Frederick H. Newell. Powell was so impressed that he made Newell the first full-time appointee to the new Irrigation Survey, which was created to investigate the potential for dams and canals in the western U.S.

At that time, there were no practical and systematic techniques for obtaining daily streamflow (or “discharge”) records, so Newell set up a training camp on the Rio Grande River at Embudo, New Mexico. Newell’s “Camp of Instruction” developed water measurement methods that are widely used by the USGS today. During the next ten years, Newell continued to play an important role in the development of streamflow gaging techniques and methods, and he eventually became the first Chief Hydrographer of the USGS.

Newell is purported to be the person responsible for the adoption of the USGS spelling of “gage” instead of “gauge”. Around 1892, Newell reasoned that “gage” was the proper Saxon spelling before the Norman influence added a 'u'. USGS historian Robert Follansbee speculated that Newell might have also been influenced by the adoption of “gage” in the Standard Dictionary (the first dictionary produced by Funk and Wagnalls).

See pages 28 and 50 of A History of the Water Resources Branch, U.S. Geological Survey: Volume I, From Predecessor Surveys to June 30, 1919.

 

Related Content

Filter Total Items: 17
October 14, 2009

Streamgages: The Silent Superhero

Whether you drink water from your tap, use electricity or canoe down your local river, chances are you benefit from USGS streamgage information. So what is a streamgage and what does it do for you? This CoreCast episode gives you the inside scoop on your silent superhero.

Transcript and captions available soon.

A hydrographer in a wooden cable car lowers a current meter into the stream below.
December 31, 1889

Streamgaging cableway, Embudo, New Mexico

Hydrographer taking a cableway streamflow measurement at the first USGS streamgage at Embudo, New Mexico, established in 1889.

Attribution: Water Resources
USGS Embudo Personnel
December 31, 1889

USGS personnel at the Embudo Station, New Mexico

USGS prersonnel at the Embudo Station, New Mexico. Embudo was selected as the site of the first USGS streamgaging station in 1889 because of the need for systematic water resource assessments of western states as it not only offered a favorable climate and easy rail access, but qualified for congressional funding tapped specifically for the “arid West.”

Attribution: Water Resources
Image: Early USGS streamgage on the San Saba river in Texas

Early USGS streamgage on the San Saba river in Texas

An early streamgage is used to measure water levels on San Saba River. USGS crews would visit this equipment to collect water level readings.

Embudo Student Hydrographers

Embudo Student Hydrographers

Embudo Student Hydrographers

Attribution: Water Resources