A few months ago, Stu Maschwitz and I were going back-and-forth about the syntax guide for Fountain. I emailed him a correction:

One search-and-replace: Dialog should be Dialogue. The Mac dialog box is an oddball. Happy to debate current and future usage, but every screenwriting text currently uses the “ue”.

We didn’t debate. We kept the “ue” on the end of dialogue.

But ever since I typed those sentences, I’ve been hyper-aware of this word in print and online. I think the trend is clear.

The “ue” is going away.

In ordinary newspapers and magazines, I’ve seen dialog used frequently.

The goal is “a timely dialog,” said Lynne Greene, global president for the Clinique, Origins and Ojon brands at the Estée Lauder Companies in New York. [NY Times]

The hope is that they can run a two-track message operation, one that allows Obama to keep slightly above the fray even as the national dialog around his re-election effort becomes relentlessly negative. [Time]

Some dictionaries claim that dialogue is the British spelling, while dialog is American. But I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.

Rather, I think dialog came from its use in computers, specifically the Mac dialog box. As far as I can rememember, these little alert windows have never had a “ue” at the end. It’s not hard to imagine the designer/programmers leaving off the silent ending, either deliberately or inadvertently. Dialog fits nicely with analog, itself a tech-y term.

The “-logue” ending is clear sign that word has come through French from Greek (“logos” meaning word or thought). Here are a few others:

  • monologue

  • prologue

  • epilogue

  • travelogue

  • catalog/catalogue

The last example feels like a good precendent, with the shortened version clearly taking over. This chart shows the use of catalog and catalogue in American books published in the 20th century:

usage chart

(Chart courtesy Grammarist.)

I think we’re approaching a similar crossing point with dialog.1

Which one to use

For now, I’m sticking with dialogue for things related to screenwriting. Every book about the format uses the long version of the word, so there’s no urgency to switch.

Also, dialogue simply feels more literary. “Monolog” and “epilog” could be words, but they’re not currently in use, and look very wrong to me.

For computers, dialog seems like the right choice. (It’s almost always dialog box anyway.)

  1. If you do the same Ngram comparison with dialog/dialogue, you get odd results that mostly show there were a lot of computer books published in the 1990s.