Date: Wed, 9 Jul 1997 12:58:56 -0400

From: Gregory {Greg} Downing downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]IS2.NYU.EDU

Subject: "smelt"

At 09:37 AM 7/9/97 -0700, you (barbara harris GRADMA[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UVVM.UVIC.CA ) wrote:

Re "smelt": I'm pretty sure I say "smelt," and also "spelt" and "learnt"

(though possibly only in rapid speech), but I would never spell any of them

that way - except, of course, the fish.

As often in ads, it's possible that "smelt" was used by the copywriter to

give an "upscale" image to the product and its users, since past forms in -t

rather than -ed sound British or old-fashioned (thus upsacle) to mainstream

speakers of US English. (You can find tons of no-longer-current -t pasts in

19C poetry, some of which is still read in schools sometimes; Romantic/19C

poets often imitated 16/17C spellings, or imitated earlier-19C revivers of

16/17C usages.)

I suspect it was not intended as a US regionalism, even though it can be

that as well (this is what the poster of the original query wondered about)

-- unless there's strong evidence in the ad that the speakers are to be

identified as "having an accent" for some product- or image-related reason.

Also, "smelled" is a pretty strong, unpleasant word to most people, with

lots of bad associations. So maybe "smelt" seemed nicer to the people who

decided on the wording. Why not ask them? The bleach company has an ad

agency, and a real person handles the account and knows who wrote the copy.

They might even find it interesting to talk for a minute about their

decision-making process -- though what they had in mind and how viewers take

what they do are not necessarily identical of course.

Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]