There’s a serious theory behind that, all about ‘grey issues’ and the fact that people don’t often have grey opinions… so really, if it is a grey issue, then that’s just because the black and white opinions are interspersed.

Just out of interest, is my spelling ‘grey’ jarring to those of you that use ‘gray’?

I once received an email from a reader (I presume, though not an observant one) telling me that I had spelled a number of words incorrectly in my posts, and included the following list:

These are wrong –

  • Colour – there’s no U in it
  • Grey – is spelled with A
  • Favourite – why do you keep adding U to everything?
  • Criticise – I bet you feel silly for getting this wrong

I was going to email them back, explain that I’m British and tell them that actually, I thought they were wroung.

In the end I figured they wouldn’t get the joke.

Anyway, I did think about it though, and US spelling stands out a mile to me… although, sometimes I use it – partially because I agree that the US spelling is better, partly because I know that the majority of my readership are from the US and partly because I’m too lazy to change the spell-checking thingy to a British dictionary.

…But it doesn’t look wrong, just different.

Phlegm, however, looks wrong and is spelled the same across the Atlantic.

Weird and grief too, buoy and amount.

I have another theory, that I’m not alone in finding that some words just look wrong.

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74 thoughts on “Lessality

  1. Really?

    ‘correct’ – that’s a tough one to call. Personally I think both types are acceptable, but if you are talking about precedent, then I’m afraid you are very much mistaken.

    The English language developed over hundreds of years… and is mostly a reflection of the cultures that invaded the British isles – Aside from the resident Anglo-Saxon we gained a whole bunch of words when the Romans took over, including many Latin stems… then we also have some Norse words that we borrowed from the Vikings, leaked through the Celts… and then we have the French contingent, which is possibly one of the causes for our extra ‘u’.

    Sometimes we kept both words – Pig is Anglo-Saxon, but pork is a French derivative, the same is true with cow and beef… we also borrowed a lot of technical and legal terminology from them… Justice for example.

    And this happened way, way before the US was even invaded by us.

    Back in the 18th century, UK English was fairly inconsistent, with various spellings for most words being acceptable as standardisation took a while to occur… which began pretty much with Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

    The US however would need Noah Webster and his ‘An American Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1828 to begin this process.

    And I think that’s when the split gained momentum – before this point there was no standardisation, and so both were probably used interchangeably.

    And So, as for the spelling difference being because of the UK trying to appear more European… I doubt that’s true (unless you could show me some evidence to the contrary).

    Similarly, to claim that the US use ‘original’ spellings is perhaps a falsehood of chronology.

  2. No, no, when the ancient alien humanoids seeded the primordial seas of our planet with their DNA in hopes that one day we’d grow into creatures resembling them, they spelled words “color” and “gray” and programmed the seeds so that we’d eventually evolve into beings that spelled things the same way. So the ORIGINAL spellings are those used by the ancient aliens!

  3. How about TOILET??? Talk about a weird word. T-O-I-L-E-T.

    I think the UK spelling looks much more elegant, but that is just my opinion.

    colour. favourite.

  4. All good points but perception is everything. Applying for a job in the US with a resume using English spelling is a great way to not get a job.

    When in Rome do a Roman and all that jazz! I lived in the US, Canada and Ireland and a unifying thing for me is that most people seem to know how to spell words that are slightly differently spelt in other countries. Like colour, favourite etc. But ask them to spell misogynist and they start crying. Forums are like that as well; the lowest common denominator will jump on your spelling of their/there/they’re but will they reply on the incredible point you made about single handedly ending world hunger….do they f$#k.

    You know when you have a great point and you’re not in the right discussion to make it, so you kinda waffle around and then sneak it in on the flimsiest of excuses? Well I think I just did that..sorry!

    What though is your opinion on archaic or obsolete words?

    For example I really enjoy using the word irregardless, a 20th century word that is thought to be a combination of irrespective or regardless, a “non-standard word”.

    This is a word you can check on the web and there are many sources but a lot of people have challenged it. Should I bring a dictionary with me everywhere I go or would it just make more sense to tell them they are wrong until they accept it?

    Funny word spellings
    aeroplane -airplane
    Penis-Panis (wait is that just me?)

  5. “You know when you have a great point and you’re not in the right discussion to make it, so you kinda waffle around and then sneak it in on the flimsiest of excuses?”

    I think this site is based around that as its entire premise… welcome to The Flowfield Unity.

    Personally, I love playing around with language – new words are my favourite, closely followed by words of yester-year.

    I like to use the words ‘cute’ and ‘sophisticated’ in their traditional, rather than modern sense.

    I like ‘irregardless’ though, that should catch on.

    Panis, hoho.

  6. I’m afraid spellcheck is going to steal our British spellings from us. Our computers are automatically set to American spellings, and at work no matter how often I change to Australian English, it changes itself back, as the server controls the entire company’s computers. It changes “ise” words without so much as a by-your-leave, just changes them straight over to “ize” as you type. And with more internet and less books, it seems as though we have a generation who don’t know how to spell in the first place and believe whatever spellcheck tells them. I’m seeing my language slip away and I cry for it.

    Damn you Yanks and your Boston Tea Party!!!

  7. Back to the painter/paintor thing -

    I always wondered about musicians – drummers and trumpeters, but pianists and… flautists??? Why shouldn’t the first two be drummists or trumpetists? Or the latter be pianoers and fluters?

  8. Strictly looking at the examples you cited, piano becomes pianist because it ends in a vowel, which tends to derail any standard conjugation rules; drum and trumpet end in easy consonants which take the -er more gracefully. As for flutes and flautist: that I don’t know, but I imagine it’s some kind of loanword which follows (or perverts) the rules of some other language.

    I say if you like it the wrong way do it that way. People will think you’re eccentric and be drawn to you. If you’re really good they’ll probably start asking you to do public radio arts discussion shows.

  9. There’s plenty of words that are spelled in ways that make absolutely no sense. The English language can’t follow it’s own rules.

  10. British spelling doesn’t bother me; I sometimes find it more elegant. I’m aware of the extra u’s and the s vs. z thing, but is solace one of those words also spelled differently across the pond? Because I’m used to seeing it solace, but I’ve seen it a few places as solice, which I couldn’t find in the dictionary. So I’m wondering: a misspelling or a Brit thing?

  11. As far as I can tell, ‘Solace’ is the only correct way to spell it… I think people confuse the ‘I’ sounding pronunciation of the ‘A’ and so spell it incorrectly.

    However, the chances are that if enough people do this for long enough, the spelling itself will actually change… mob rules when it comes to spelling, and that’s why I think the US influence on British spelling is a little bit of a worry – there are more people that use those spelling and with the internet as a forum, it may be likely that we all end up using US spellings.

  12. I am extremely bothered when I see people spelling “focused” with two “s”s. I don’t know which is the British spelling, but I simply cannot abide the double s in that word.

  13. Yes, same in Canada, as well. Though tissue is making a dramatic and surprising comeback! At least around Toronto. (also, on the other issues, “gray” looks bizarre and wrong to me.)

  14. Good Gods! Is it actually spelt judgment??? That looks hideous! I’ve been spelling it Judgement my entire life, and have never been corrected!

  15. I dislike the misuse of the word ‘alternate’ when you mean ‘alternative’, though I know it is entirely acceptable in the US, just not the rest of the English speaking world. ‘Alternate’ means to flip between too options. I was discussing this very point this morning with my boss, then returned to find he had sent me an email (prior to the discussion) making exactly the same mistake!


    I know its not a word but I really like using it. My question is how long does a word have to be common use (which it is) before it is accepted. I realize regardless does not need a friend but I have always found irregardless to make perfect sense even if it is a double negative or marrying of two other words.


  17. Well, it is an interesting one, it’s a bit like inflamable… that is the bit attached to the main word (I know technical) enhances the potency of the word itself.

    I’m not entirely convinced by the argument for it though… is it not redundant?

  18. Personally, being British I tend to use the British spellings, except in the ‘z’ ‘s’ situation- criticise, criticize, they look equally right to me (interestingly, my English (UK) spellchecker has nothing to say on either spelling). But how about criticism? I doubt that’s spelt criticizm in the US, so isn’t criticize defying the language rule?

    When chatting with American friends online, the one spelling difference that always seems to crack them up is ‘mum’ as opposed to ‘mom’.

  19. “criticizm” sounds like it’d be down with the kids though… like adding a ‘z’ (in my head it’s pronounced zed), in any word that doesn’t require it in order to appeal to the youth.

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