Are You a “Stamper” or a “Stomper”?: Word Etymologies

By Mark Skoultchi

October 7, 2008

This post isn’t about Brangelina – I just needed an image and, lets face it, why not use them. They’re a very handsome couple.

Recently, Catchword New York hosted our company’s quarterly retreat here on the East coast. All our California-based colleagues were forced to endure the nightmare that is modern day air travel and fly to New York (gottcha!). Some even had the (dis)pleasure of extended cab rides with clueless drivers and tours of remote New Jersey towns (sorry about that Aaron). But once everyone arrived and the discussions started we were all glad to be together talking about the business of naming.

During one of our discussions (I think we were talking about the crucial distinctions between product naming and company naming, or maybe it was just the 4 key components of good guacamole, I can’t recall) I used the term “stamping ground” to describe a place I used to frequent. It’s a good thing we started off the day with various stretching and relaxation exercises because I’m pretty sure at least half my colleagues would have gotten a nasty case of whiplash at hearing my use of “stamping” instead of “stomping”. Beth Gerber, one of our creative directors, in the most respectful tone, kindly asked: “Don’t you mean ‘stomping ground’ Mark?”

To be honest, I wasn’t sure that “stamping ground” was acceptable, and that I wasn’t simply confusing the term with “stomping ground”. But I used it anyway. Partly to arouse curiosity and discussion, and partly to say “ah-ha! I know something about language that even all of you don’t!” (9 times out of 10 my colleagues are right about these sort of language questions, so of course I was taking a pretty big chance here) I went on to say that I had read “stamping ground” in a piece of fiction once (Robert McCammon novel maybe??) and decided then to begin using it in place of “stomping ground”. Figured it made me sound smarter. Gave me an opportunity to correct all those “stompers” out there. Of course it wasn’t until I found myself in that room with all my brilliant, linguistically-trained colleagues that, I, um, started to second-guess my use of “stamping”. Long story short, we agreed to disagree until our meetings broke and we had the chance to look it up, consult a dictionary.

And……..wait for it…….wait for it……they’re both correct. My Webster’s Third International Dictionary (a behemoth of a book and quite authoritative) includes a definition for “stamping ground” but no definition (i.e. no entry at all, not even a redirect) for “stomping ground”. The definition for “stamping ground” is as you would expect for “stomping ground”: a place much frequented; a favorite or habitual resort. Conversely, my partner, Maria Cypher, found that her Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “stomping ground” as “a favorite or habitual resort,” whereas for “stamping ground” it says “see stomping ground.” But the usage date for Stamping is 1786, whereas Stomping’s is 1854. So it would seem that people stamped before they stomped. Checking online, I found similar inconsistencies, but enough evidence to support that, while Stomping may be the more common modern day usage, Stamping is also perfectly acceptable.

So it was fair for my colleagues to look at me funny, but I can still hold my head up high at our next retreat. What can I say – I’m a stamper, not a stomper.

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