Do You Spell it Cusco or Cuzco?

The Plaza de Armas of Cusco, Peru
jopstock / Getty Images

Cusco is a city in southeastern Peru that was once the capital of the Inca Empire, which flourished between 1400 and 1534, according to the Ancient History Encylopedia, an online information source that says it is "the world's most-read history encyclopedia." Despite such lofty credentials, this free and extremely well-detailed source is undecided about the correct spelling of this ancient city. The site lists the spelling as: "Cuzco (also Cusco...)."

The Peruvian spelling is "Cusco" -- with an "s" -- so you would think that would settle the matter. But, the issue is far from simple. Instead, sources like "Encyclopaedia Britannica," UNESCO and Lonely Planet all spell the city as "Cuzco" -- with a "z'." So, which is correct?

Emotional Debate

There is no simple answer: The debate over the correct lettering goes back centuries, spanning the divide between the Old World and the New, between Spain and its former colonies, and between the academic intelligentsia and common folks -- including the residents of the city itself.

Cuzco -- with the "z" -- is a more common spelling in the English-speaking world, especially in academic circles. The blog Cusco Eats, chimed in on the debate noting "that among academics the 'z' spelling is preferred since it is the one used in the Spanish colonies and represented Spanish attempts to get at an original Inca pronunciation of the city’s name." The blog notes that residents of the city, itself, however, spell it as "Cusco" with an "s." Indeed, in 1976, the city went so far as to ban the use of "z" in all municipal publications in favor of the "s" spelling, the blog notes.

Even Cusco Eats was forced to tackle spelling dilemma head-on when trying to choose a name for its website: "We faced this when we began this blog and restaurant search," the blog noted in an article titled, "Cusco or Cuzco, Which Is It?" "We had long discussions on the matter."

Google vs. Merriam-Webster

Google AdWords —a web search tool developed by the search engine—suggests that "Cusco" is used more often than "Cuzco." On average, people search for "Cusco" 135,000 times per month in the U.S., with "Cuzco" lagging behind with 110,000 searches.

Yet, "Webster's New World College Dictionary," which is the reference used by most newspapers in the United States, begs to differ. The well-used dictionary has this definition and spelling of the city: Cuzco: a city in Peru, the capital of the Inca empire, 12th-16th century. Webster's alternative spelling for the city: "Cusco."

So, the debate over the spelling of the city's name is not over, notes Cusco Eats. " It continues to roil."