Why Brussels Sprouts Are Hard To Spell (And To Eat)

The brussels sprout is absolutely a love-it-or-leave-it vegetable. But whichever side of the culinary fence you are on, you need to spell it correctly.

Brussels sprout picture from Shutterstock

There are two key principles to bear in mind here:

  • It’s brussels with an S, not brussel without. Because the end S isn’t obvious when you pronounce it, this often gets missed — but that doesn’t make it right.
  • The word brussels does not have a capital letter (except at the beginning of a sentence)– it’s in such common usage that any historical connection to the place name Brussels is no longer relevant, and it doesn’t make sense for a single common-and-garden vegetable to be graced with a capital when most are not. (The same rule applies to brussels lace and brussels carpet, incidentally.)

The Macquarie Dictionary does list an S-free brussel sprout as a secondary variant, and I don’t find it hard to imagine we might reach a point where the spelling changes for that to become the norm — but it hasn’t done so yet for formal usage. If you do decide to change, make sure you’re consistent and use that version all the time. (When variant spellings exist, consistency is vitally important.)

Another possible solution is simply to refer to sprouts, but without appropriate context this runs the risk of someone becoming confused with bean sprouts or other variants. Precision is likely to be more useful. Accuracy matters.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.

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