Font or fount of all knowledge?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by panjandrum, Jul 16, 2007.

  1. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    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.

  2. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    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."
  3. 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.
  4. Matching Mole

    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".
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Perhaps my difficulty comes from thinking of a font as a great lumpen stone thing - it's cagey's baptismal font.
  6. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    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.
  7. Packard

    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:
  8. The Scrivener Banned

    On the "naughty step".
    England. English
    I've always been a "fount" person. In fact, I don't recall ever having heard "font of all knowledge" in speech although I have seen it written.
  9. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    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.
  10. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    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?:)
  11. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English

    Yes! A popularity contest.

    Actually I would rather come to a consensus of which one was correct, but absent agreement, I say: Poll!
  12. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    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.
  13. 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.
  14. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    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.
  15. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    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.
  16. pwmeek

    pwmeek Senior Member

    SE Michigan, USA
    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.
  17. natkretep

    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

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