News & Politics

Sorry, but the Preferred Spelling Is “Sea Chantey”

We don't make the rules.

Photograph by Dreamer Company/iStock.

The sudden surge of interest in seafaring songs is a wonderful, unexpected, and soothing during a year that’s already challenging its predecessor in awfulness.

But listen, friends: The correct way to spell the name of these tunes is sea chanteys, not sea shanties.

This isn’t contrarianism. The word derives from the imperative of the French verb chanter, which means to sing. Webster’s New World and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary agree on this point.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

I know from experience that this is the type of editing fact that makes people want to hurl their chunky sweaters into the wine-dark sea. Sea chantey just looks wrong, you say. Yes, I agree, it feels kind of weird. And yet. (There’s also a case to be made that “Wellerman” is a whaling song, not a chantey, but let’s practice some 2021 self care and confront our disappointments slowly.)

Anyway, here’s a great example of sea chantey TikTok.

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.