Font or fount of all knowledge?

panjandrum

Lapsed Moderator
English-Ireland (top end)
I heard it twice today, so I thought I'd better ask you all.

I always assumed the phrase to be "fount of all knowledge" - the source from which all knowledge springs. Yet it appears that some very articulate and well-read people consistently refer to the "font of all knowledge".

There is nothing immediately clear from my reading of the OED.

Thoughts?
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    I've heard and read it both ways, Panj, and I honestly don't know. I don't know its origin, either. I think I would tend to use "fount" but I've heard "font" enough that I'd have no problem with it.

    I think both "font" and "fount" mean source, although I think of baptismal font with "font" and fountain with "fount."

    I believe I would say "font of wisdom" but "fount of knowledge", but it's one of those things where the more I think about it, the less sure I am. :)

    [edit]For the first time since I've started using Google I've received the same number of hits for two similar phrases: 21,700 for "font of wisdom" and 21,700 for "fount of wisdom."
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    According to my less authoritive American Heritage Dictionary:

    1) font and fount can both be used in the phrase you cite.

    2) font had, and has, another life related to church settings, e.g as in "baptismal font", and was taken over from this Late Latin use of fons, fountain.

    3) fount came to English through the Old French font, derived from the same Latin word. I assume someone else can explain the vowel change.

    I would use the speliing font, but I haven't a clue whether this preference is general in AE.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    This variation in spelling also appears in regard to the printing term fount which, in traditional printing terms, means a full set of all the characters from a typeface in a particular point size. In the USA the form "font" is used instead, and of course has been adapted to mean a computer typeface, and font is now used for this on both sides of the Atlantic. Typefaces and fonts are not the same in printing, but the distinction is somethat moot in digital terms, as the same "font" can be virtually any size.

    "Fount" in terms of wisdom seems 4 or 5 times as popular than "font" in UK sites, according to Google. I've no idea which I would use, as it's not my kind of phrase, but "fount" seems to ring clearer in my head than "font".
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    In which case, panjandrum, perhaps you should use the criteria of mellifluousness and clarity and choose fount: it looks and sounds more poetic to me (an admittedly profoundly un-poetic person), and it is less likely to lead to confusion.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Whenever I hear this (and it is not too often), I assume the "fount". As in a shortened form of "fountain" (fountain of youth).

    "Font" on the other hand seems so petty--I set type in High School and we had those little, tiny pieces of lead--part of the font. It seems so slight that it could not be properly used for a "font of knowledge".

    No research behind this, but here goes:

    "Font of knowledge" (little tiny piece of lead) :cross:

    "Fount of knowledge" (A great gushing fountain bursting forth with pearls of wisdom). :tick:
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    A Google search shows around 571 appearances of "font of inspiration" to 797 for "fount of inspiration." It's a vicious circle: people use the one they are more confident about or the one that "sounds" better: grammatical survival of the fittest.
     

    Alxmrphi

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I here more often than not "fountain of all knowledge" and therefore I have always thought "fount" is correct, as a shortened form for "fountain", Panj, this question is perfect for a poll, care to add one?:)
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I here more often than not "fountain of all knowledge" and therefore I have always thought "fount" is correct, as a shortened form for "fountain", Panj, this question is perfect for a poll, care to add one?:)


    Yes! A popularity contest.

    Actually I would rather come to a consensus of which one was correct, but absent agreement, I say: Poll!
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Perhaps my difficulty comes from thinking of a font as a great lumpen stone thing - it's cagey's baptismal font.

    Ah, but font is closer to the Latin fons, fontis (spring, fountain) that is the source of the word, the font as it were.

    No doubt the church fathers called the "great lumpen stone thing" a font, to bring to mind those fresh running springs that marked the ancient holy places on which many early churches were built.

    Alas! In your case, they appear to have accomplished the reverse.
     

    konungursvia

    Banned
    Canada (English)
    We got the word from Anglo-Norman from Latin, and I believe we borrowed it twice, once around 1066, the other time in Shakespeare's era, so both are ok.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    OK, we have some etymology and a few data points and opinions. Now, let each person make up his or her own mind. Surely, we've established that this is a matter of aesthetics and custom.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I'm definitely a fount man, me ~ always have been, always will be.

    In fact I'd go so far as to say that font of knowledge just sounds (ahem) wrong to me.
     

    pwmeek

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I (AE) lean slightly towards "font of [all] knowledge". I'm not sure why, and I been repeating them alternately to myself until neither sounds right.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I think I would always say 'fount of all knowledge'.

    COCA and BNC (details below) seem to indicate that fount is the preferred form, and that font is more likely to be found in AmE. If we look at the ngram for fo(u)nt of all knowledge, it looks as if fount of all knowledge has been around since 1865 or so, and the font version put in an appearance around 1965, and today both versions are about equal in AmE, but fount is the strongly preferred form in BrE.

    COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English)
    fount of all knowledge: 3
    fount of all knowledge: 6
    font of all knowledge: 1
    font of knowledge: 3

    BNC (British National Corpus)
    fount of all knowledge: 3
    fount of knowledge: 3
    font of all knowledge: 0
    font of knowledge: 0
     

    Literacyismything

    New Member
    English - UK
    When I was brought up <---> It WAS definitely "font of all knowledge".

    <---Off-topic comments deleted by moderator (Copyright)--->
     
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    DonnyB

    Member Emeritus
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Rather interestingly, I thought, that fount/font of all knowledge Oxford Dictionaries Online define fount as A source of a desirable quality or commodity: ‘our courier was a fount of knowledge’.

    They then give us the best of both worlds by adding a second definition: [British] variant spelling of font. :)
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    The OED, on the other hand, has only one spelling but two pronunciations:

    fount
    , n.1
    Pronunciation: Brit./fɒnt/, /faʊnt/, U.S. /fɑnt/, /faʊnt/
    Frequency (in current use):
    Etymology: Appears late in 16th cent.; < French font or Latin font-em on the analogy of mount, mountain, etc.
    Chiefly poet.
    a. A spring, source, fountain n.
    1874 J. R. Green Short Hist. Eng. People v. §3. 235 The Archbishop turned fiercely upon Oxford as the fount and centre of the new heresies.
     

    Pertinax

    Senior Member
    BrE->AuE
    In the OED "fount" in the sense of "source" is attested to 1594, and "font" is listed as a variant spelling only for its "typeface" meaning. "font" in the sense of "receptacle for baptismal water" goes back to Old English.

    Google Books turns up seven cases of "font of all knowledge" before 1950, all apparently American - the oldest 1907:
    Why is it if the Selden patent is the font of all knowledge about the construction and operation of gasoline automobiles that-the owner of the patent is in the hands of receivers?

    However, "fount of all knowledge" is attested to 1847:
    ... which, in the first biennial, besides religion, the fount of all knowledge, comprehends arithmetic, algebra, geometry ...

    "font" is listed with the meaning "source" in Webster's current dictionary, but not in Webster's 1828 dictionary.

    Edit: There is some evidence (albeit unacknowledged by the OED) that the spelling "font" has been a variant of "fount" in the sense of "fountain" or "source" since at least 1800. These examples are pre-1850:

    1799 - Rev Dr E Young (cited by Webster's 1913 dictionary)
    Bathing forever in the font of bliss! For ever basking in the deity!

    1812
    a British house of commons would prove itself worthy the epithet applied to the celestial font of Justice

    1839
    act as sponsors at the font of poetry

    1840 - Henry George Salter
    the "font of day" itself

    1841 - Walter Scott
    font of History
     
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    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    When I was brought up <---Off-topic comment deleted by moderator (Copyright)---> It WAS definitely "font of all knowledge".

    For me, growing up in the US, it was the same. "Font" meaning "source", like a spring of water. I don't recall hearing the "fount" version of this phrase at all. To me a "fount" is a "fountain".

    Clearly this phrase has nothing to do with typefaces or baptism receptacles.
     
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    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    When I think of "font" I think of typography. A look at Google's definition provides this other meaning:

    font
    fänt/
    noun
    1. 1.
      a receptacle in a church for the water used in baptism, typically a freestanding stone structure.
    I could see either definition, "fount" or "font", working for "font/fount" of knowledge. Though I would assume that "font" would work better for Christians than other religions.

    As a Jew, this is the first I have seen the above definition.
     

    Literacyismything

    New Member
    English - UK
    For me, growing up in the US, it was the same. "Font" meaning "source", like a spring of water. I don't recall hearing the "fount" version of this phrase at all. To me a "fount" is a "fountain".

    Clearly this phrase has nothing to do with typefaces or baptism receptacles.
    Haha, very true!! I agree!!
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    As a Jew, this is the first I have seen the above definition.

    I have heard of "baptismal fonts" but my church doesn't have them either. I don't think I've ever seen one.

    For me "font" matches these WR dictionary definitions:

    3. a productive source: The book is a font of useful tips for travelers.
    5. a fountain (Archaic)

    I speak pretty good Archaic.:D It must be all those years reading the King James Bible (written in 1611 English). And all that Shakespeare we had to read in high school.
     

    Literacyismything

    New Member
    English - UK
    I have heard of "baptismal fonts" but my church doesn't have them either. I don't think I've ever seen one.

    For me "font" matches these WR dictionary definitions:

    3. a productive source: The book is a font of useful tips for travelers.
    5. a fountain (Archaic)

    I speak pretty good Archaic.:D It must be all those years reading the King James Bible (written in 1611 English). And all that Shakespeare we had to read in high school.
    Yes, exactly - font of useful tips/font of knowledge. At least we agree on this.:thumbsup::) When I said Old English, I didn't mean "Olde Worlde" English, although it's probably where it did actually come from. ;)
     
    When I think of "font" I think of typography. A look at Google's definition provides this other meaning:

    font
    fänt/
    noun
    1. 1.
      a receptacle in a church for the water used in baptism, typically a freestanding stone structure.
    The word "font" is also used to refer to the small containers for holy water found near the doors of almost all Catholic (and some Anglican) churches.

    This is a holy water font of the sort that might be hung on a wall:

    images


    and here are free-standing versions:
     
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