USA Network and "White Collar" only vaguely know how to spell "judgment"

 USA Network is running promos for the season finale of “White Collar.” Now, I neither watch nor have an opinion on that show, and the idea of “season finale” has been so diluted by USA Network’s splitting up of seasons into parts that, for all I know, this could be the seventh or eighth finale in three seasons.
But the point is this — like any good show about police, criminals or courts, there’s a judgment day. Or “judgement,” as the case may be.
Is USA Network really wrong? Or stupid? “Judgement” is an allowable variant, according to Merriam-Webster’s website, and it’s the arguably the intuitive way to spell the word, consider that it’s based off of “judge.”

Many other words that end with “-ment” take the full word preceding the suffix:

  • government
  • management
  • movement
  • agreement
  • environment

On the other hand, none of those words precede the “-ment” with “-dg” or “dge-“. “Abridgment,” for example, is listed as the primary spelling, with “abridgement” as a variant. Same for “acknowledgment” and a host of other words.
Like many other disagreements, this appears to be one of British versus American sensibilities. According to this 2009 column, Fowler preferred “judgement,” and though he acknowledged the prevalent use of “judgment,” he codified the former (such as English can be applied by diktat) in this rule:

RULE: When a suffix is added to a word ending in mute e, the mute e is dropped before a vowel, but not before a consonant.

So, if we’re going to sit here and judge (natch!), we should acknowledge that the spelling of “judgement” is not wrong, in that it’s something that’s simply a misspelled non-word. But that still let’s us judge USA’s intentions, care and diligence, since we can probably assume that a network named USA(!) is not going to be embracing British spellings.
How can we guess at USA’s intentions? Well, the best I can do is look at the network’s other promotional materials and how the episode is being displayed on the semi-official sites of record (e.g. IMDB). Here’s what I found:

  • USA’s “White Collar” homepage promotes the episode as “Judgment Day.”
  • The official Twitter account is tweeting “Judgment Day” here and here (this one rather hilariously to the promo with the, um, alternate spelling).
  • The Wikipedia and IMDB episode guides spell it “Judgment Day.”

What’s the real lesson? Editing is not just about spell-check, but it does mean coordinating your efforts. A style guide isn’t just a way to be pedantic or power-hungry; it’s a way to be consistent, whether for editorial or — in this case, primarily — for marketing and communications.
Whatever part of USA’s operations that does the commercials is not on the same page, figuratively, as the producers of the show or the USA website team. Is it a big problem? Not in itself. At least they chose a spelling some people recognize. But it should make us all a little wary of what type of coherent programming USA can provide when it can’t even match the title of the episode with the commercial advertising it.

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