There are a lot of homophones in English that confuse both native and ESL writers alike. The two words disc vs. disk, however, aren’t exactly homophones. They are the same word, but—oddly enough—they are used to refer to different things. And there isn’t any universal consensus on which spelling is used for what.
The words disc and disk both have the same meaning. If you go to a dictionary and look up either word, you will see some variation of this definition,
A thin, flat, circular object or plate; a round, flattened object.
But, despite having the same meaning, disc and disk are used to refer to different things.
In this post, I want to outline which word refers to what as things currently stand. Should you use disc or disk in your sentence?
The word disc originated from mid-17th century (originally referring to the seemingly flat circular form of the sun or moon): from French disque or Latin discus.
Disc as noun:
Disc is used as a noun in English language where it means a flat, thin circular object.
Coins were made by striking a blank disc of metal.
An object or part resembling a disc in shape or appearance.
The smudged yellow disc of the moon.
Use of disk:
In American English, disc (with a –c) is the less common variant and the most commonly used spellings for the word are disk.
Do you want to go out and throw some disk?
I slipped a disk in my back; I can’t play today.
I think the disk drive in my computer is about to crash.
If you must use a disk, there’s software that lets you use the optical drive on another network-connected computer. [Boston Globe]
It’s packed with features, including disk quotas to make sure none of your employees guzzles too much disk space. [Telegraph]
Use of disc:
While disk is the preferred choice in American English (with disc referring to just a select few things), the opposite has been true in British English for some time. For most of the 20th century, there has been a marked preference for disc in British English, while disk has been preferred in America. This British preference has been lessened some, however, in the last 20 years or so with the near universal spelling disk to refer to computer storage devices.
As well as the gramophones, Mr Thorne’s collection includes phonographs and disc and cylinder recorders. [Daily Mail]
The disc was the first release under West’s new “long-term worldwide label agreement” for his imprint through Def Jam. [Los Angeles Times]
Braking is accomplished with four-wheel disc brakes, 11.4-inch ventilated discs in front and 12.1-inch in the rear. [Montreal Gazette]
Disk or disc:
The difference between disk vs. disc has geographical and dialectical considerations. Making the correct choice for your audience, disk or disc, is important for your writing. Disk is preferred in American English, with a few exceptions. Disc is preferred in British English, with the exception of computer related references.