Spelling is hard. It often seems like the English language has as many spelling rules as it does exceptions to those rules, which makes every memo, blog post, newspaper article, etc. an adventure to write. Sometimes a word will even have two acceptable ways to spell it, which causes more confusion. We recently ran into this problem as we were promoting the two mantles we salvaged from Rockton, Illinois...or is it mantel?
In order to determine which spelling was the correct one, we had to take a little trip back to the Middle Ages. Both mantle and mantel are derived from the Latin mantellum, meaning "cloak" or "a beam or stone supporting the masonry above the fireplace." It was adopted into Old English around the 15th century as mentel, but evolved into both mantel and mantle under Anglo-French influence. Mantel typically referred to that shelf over the fireplace, and has generally kept this definition since. Mantle is a bit trickier, because although the original definition referred to a loose, sleeveless cloak often worn by royalty and religious leaders, it has also been used to indicate non-textile structures such as a movable shelter for soldiers and a covering over a flame used to intensify its glow. This association is likely the reason behind the ambiguous "correct" usage.
Essentially, if you're trying to talk about a ledge over your fireplace where you put your vases, candles, and other tchotchkes and you're using American English, technically there is no right answer! It really comes down to personal preference. However, if you want to stick to the status quo (and stay in line with the Better Homes and Gardens Stylebook), mantel is probably the way to go. Even though we are not spelling and grammar experts, we are salvaging, restoring, and repurposing experts, and we would love to help you find the perfect mantel for your living space! Stop by our store or check out our inventory online!