originally published September 28, 2012
Many of my more astute readers will no doubt have noticed that I tend to favor the American spelling system above the British / Canadian system I grew up with. A number of people (and here I’m assuming we can utilize zero as a number) have asked why that is. I have spent my life living amid the Queen’s English, yet I forsake my national heritage to adopt the scandalous and heinous Yankee spelling.
I do this for two reasons: first, a lot of my audience is based in the US. This is because my agent (who is not, technically speaking, very good) arranged for my site to become mandatory reading in US prisons across seven counties in and around the Oklahoman panhandle. Second, most of the US spellings make more sense to me, both aesthetically and logically. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start with the ‘-or’ vs. ‘-our’ choice. The ‘u’ in the middle is pointless. ‘Color’ and ‘Colour’ end in a syllabic approximant. It’s a non-vowel, wouldn’t even merit a schwa in phonetic transcription. Adding another vowel there is a wasted effort, an ornamental and unnecessary expenditure of my right index finger. Most of these words were imported to English through a bunch of Latin non-agent nouns, all ending in ‘-or’ or ‘-ur’. It was only after the Norman conquest of England in the eleventh century that folks started adding a ‘u’ in the middle.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to conform to a spelling principle solely because the Brits got their asses kicked 900 years ago.
If the syllable features a prominent vowel sound that is clearly affected by the ‘u’, then it earns an ‘-our’, as I will demonstrate in my forthcoming album of classic mid-1960’s-style lounge music, “The Velour Paramour”.
Here’s a rule that obviously infested our language from the French. I’m talking about the reasons Edmonton has shopping centres, movie theatres, milk sold in litres, and not a lot of lustre. In French, you pronounce ‘centre’ like ‘sawn-truh’, rolling the ‘r’ if you’re really fancy (and I am). In English, the second syllable sounds just like the ones in my previous gripe: a syllabic approximant. Why would I not spell it the logical way?
Again, I have an exception. I will distinguish between a movie theater and the theatre, in reference to a live performance. Why do I make this distinction? Hell if I know. But many well-respected venues on and off Broadway call themselves ‘theatres’. Maybe that’s why. Maybe I’m just arbitrary in my notions of propriety and I should embrace that.
Okay, do I have a driver’s license or a driver’s licence? Do I regularly practice my foosball skills, or do I practise them? British/Canadian English has decided that license and practise are verbs and licence and practice are nouns. American English only recognizes practice and license as both the noun and verb forms of the word.
This is an easy call. First, Microsoft Word keeps giving me squiggly red lines underneath licence and practise. Second, this is another rule I’d have to commit to memory, and it’s exactly the kind of spelling rule that I’d be likely to forget. So again, I side with the nation to my south and stick with one spelling for each word.
‘Connexion’ is the British way to spell ‘Connection’. I’m betting even my British readers were unaware of this, as this rule has now become antiquated, even in the Queen’s speak. For this reason, I may start adopting the old spelling. We all deserve one ridiculously stupid hipster move a week, don’t we? No? Okay, forget it.
This next rule really favors the Brits, at least in open-mindedness. If you realize you need to reorganize before you fail to recognize the non-standardized pens on your desk, and if you happen to live south of the 49th parallel, then this sentence would be spelled correctly. In England, you have the option to realise, reorganise, and recognise.
According to the British National Corpus, which is a massive linguistic effort to gather and analyze (or analyse, whatever) English text, the ‘-ise’ ending is preferred by a ratio of 3 to 2 in the UK. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary only lists ‘-ize’ as correct – it considers the alternative to be incorrect for these words of Greek origin – while the Cambridge University Press has long been on the side of ‘-ise’. This sounds like a debate that should be settled over a rowing match, or a game of cricket or something.
(the only sport whose rules I understand less than the rules of British spelling)
I’m at a loss to explain my stance on this next rule. According to proper British spelling, one may catalogue the analogue recordings of dialogue (and Jay Leno’s monologue) at the synagogue. American English finds the ‘ue’ at the end of those words to be flashy and pompous I guess, because they don’t use them. I fall right in the middle. I’ll stick with the monologue and the synagogue, but the rest get the Yankee spelling treatment from me.
Also, I tend not to speak about Jay Leno’s monologue very often, but that’s only because I tend to think of him as an unfunny putz.
As far as the rest of the rules are concerned, I lean heavily on the side of my spell-check because that just makes my life easier. I don’t like seeing squiggly lines under words; that’s probably a holdover from my school days, when attention drawn to specific text usually meant I’d screwed up. That’s why I turned off my grammar-checker. Sometimes my writing style doesn’t conform to Microsoft Word’s idea of proper grammar. Sometimes a word just needs to be its own sentence.
See? That was poignant.
But for the record, Brits are travelling while Americans are traveling. MS Word doesn’t flag either of those spellings, so I honestly have no idea which one I use. Brits double up when things are initialled; Americans prefer to have things initialed.
On the other hand, Americans can be willful and skillful, while the English opt to be wilful and skilful.
Brits like their ‘E’s too – maybe it’s because their country starts with one. You’ll find them to be ageing, likeable and unshakeable. Americans aren’t fond of that middle ‘e’.
There are so many more differences; I honestly thought I’d get through them all. But I’m past my thousand words and my incarcerated fan-base needs to head out to the yard. Try not to get shivved, guys!