ca·​cog·​ra·​phy ka-ˈkä-grə-fē How to pronounce cacography (audio)
: bad spelling compare orthography
: bad handwriting compare calligraphy
cacographical adjective

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In its earliest use in the 16th century, cacography meant not "incorrect spelling" but "a bad system of spelling." Today people worry about misspelling words, but back then there was little need for such concern. English spelling was far from standardized; people spelled words any way that made sense to them. Not every one was happy with such laxity, however, and over the coming centuries spelling reformers pressed for regularization. Some reformers thought spelling should reflect the etymological background of words; others thought words should be spelled the way they sound. And of course, everyone believed his or her own way of spelling was the best. Our present inconsistent system was arrived at over time. Today cacography usually suggests deviation from the established standards.

Word History


caco- + -graphy (in orthography), perhaps after French cacographie

First Known Use

1574, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of cacography was in 1574


Dictionary Entries Near cacography

Cite this Entry

“Cacography.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Mar. 2024.

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