jump to navigation

Aaargh! I’m turning into my parents! 5, May 2007

Posted by babychaos in Adult Content, Grumpy Old Bag, Life and living, whinging, winging, writing.

I’ve really done it now. I’ve morphed into both parents… and very possibly one of my grandfathers, to boot. You see, I’ve complained to the BBC… about spelling! Oh no, I must be cracking up. This is what writing for a living does to you! No wonder I want to be an artist.

I just get so fed up with people in business spelling everything like organise or optimise or standardise with z’s and people spelling enquiries with an i. For the last three months or so, the BBC news, the best and most impartial in the world, has started spelling Enquiries wrong as standard. Why does this irritate me so much? I find myself ranting at the screen like a grumpy old gimmer (or my Dad).

“We’re sodding British for god’s sake!” I shout. “It’s OUR language, which WE invented and YOU’RE the BBC! It’s your bloody job to spell it right.”


And then I remember my dad shouting at the screen as yet another newscaster enunciated “frontier” or “privacy” wrong!

They don’t even listen to their own experts! Here’s one advising Serbians learning English who have asked him the difference between “enquire” and “inquire”… on the BBC’s own website.

“There is a very simple answer here – there is no difference in meaning. The spelling with ‘e’ is British, the spelling with ‘i’ is North American. The same goes for the nouns, ‘inquiry’ and ‘enquiry’.”

He goes on to say.

“There are, of course, other differences in spelling between American and British English. The most common ones are words that end with ‘our’ in British English and are spelled ‘or’ in American English – labour (labor), honour (honor), and so on.

“Another common difference is words that end in ‘re’ in British English and are spelled with ‘er’ in American English- theatre, centre.

And finally, words that end with – ‘ize’ in American English and are often spelled with – ‘ise’ in British English – sympathise, criticise, and so on.”

It’s all Bill Gates’ fault. Scientists all use Word and scientists can’t spell at the best of times and using a programme which comes with another country’s spelling dictionary as default doesn’t help them. Even if you’re savvy enough to install the English, English dictionary, Microsoft Word’s grip on the mother tongue is laughable – drawing, as it apparently does, on British English from about the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, possibly earlier.

Worse, because the programme is ubiquitous, people think it must be right and believe they’ve been spelling their own language wrong all their lives. Give me strength!

Did you know they invented a computer to crack the Enigma code during the war but they all signed the Official Secrets Act so nobody was allowed to talk about it until 70 years afterwards? The Government didn’t want anyone to know because a lot of countries still used Enigma and it wanted to be able to have a beaky at their top secret communications.

Well… I reckon this is Bill Gates’ revenge on the British Government, on behalf of the US government and world science, for forcing everyone to spend a lot of time and effort reinventing something pretty much from scratch in the 1950s and 60s which, in a crude form, was already there.

Makes you wonder how much technology would be available today if it wasn’t deemed to give the governments of the countries in which it was invented a military advantage, doesn’t it?

Microsoft Word and Dodgy spelling. It’s like the whole world is morphing into America without the good bits… AAAAARGH! It’s so frustrating.



1. Mrs. Nicklebee - 5, May 2007

Owe know! Yore terning inn two yore parents!

I agree that MS Word and other spell checkers are not always correct, and that a person has to be able to spell in spite of them.

I never thought about the Bill Gates connection but it would only really make sense if the spellings change every 1-4 years, but only for certain people and only under certain nebulous conditions, which may or may not be a constant for during a single conversation. It depends on whether it’s the most confusing for the most amount of people 😉

I’ve wondered about the -ise/-ize thing–and have wondered who’s right–and have come to the conclusion that the -ize, commonly but mistakenly referred to as originally American, is influenced by the Greek language, which apparently uses the z over the s.

You know you’re getting old when you hear your parents screaming out of your mouth.

2. Kat - 5, May 2007

But you’re right. I hold you Brits to a higher standard of English, and the BBC should most definitely get those things right! (If you’re interested, this is a great linguistics blog that focuses on the differences between British and American English.)

3. Anne - 7, May 2007

I had no idea British people were being subjected to American spellings of words – no wonder you’re annoyed! I can totally understand your frustration…afterall – how are we going to know what voice accent to read a sentence with in our heads, if everyone’s imaginary voice just sounds American? Okay, that won’t make sense to most people. There IS a difference though…call me old-fashioned, but I think the English spellings of words seem a little classier than the American spellings. Damn that bloody Bill Gates… the BBC should know better than to fall into that trap!

4. babychaos - 8, May 2007

Interesting point Mrs M, I’m not sure about ize if the truth were known, I thought it went to the US that way with the Pilgrim Fathers and then we in the UK morphed away from it. I guess I feel the Microsoft thing keenly because when I started out the industry standard was a programme called WordPerfect and that had an excellent spelling dictionary for both British and American English – I still have a copy on my PC just to use as a dictionary – so you could morph documents into US spelling if you were addressing the US press – which I often was.

Kat, what a great blog, thanks for that link, I’ll enjoy looking into that further. I’m intrigued how some spellings are universal except in the US while others are only spelled that way in Britain, the word Mum is spelled and pronounced with a U in the UK but I know South Africans, as well as Americans both spell and – if you listen carefully – pronounce it with an “o” as in Mom.

Anne, another excellent point, the “voice” in your head does make a difference and with most websites these days I do find myself reading with a kind of transatlantic twang! I’m not sure either is classier, though it’s very kind of you to be so complimentary about our spellings. I think the main problems are twofold, first that if you buy pretty much any computer programme from anywhere it will only have the option of “English” so all the labels, toolbar buttons, instructions, everything are all in American English, oh for the day when I can buy a DTP programme with “colour palette” spelt that way. I think this probably compounded, where the programmes are built in Eastern Bloc or the Far East by the fact that Word is sold with the US spelling dictionary as standard, even here in the UK you have to actually install the British Spelling dictionary and most people make the assumption it will set for the spelling in their country and language of choice by default… and then of course, you have to educate it.

And finally… I think writing for a living – and no matter how much I may want to be an artist, writing is what I actually do for a living – can make you very anally retentive about language and I’m probably a good demonstration of this point!



5. lynneguist - 9, May 2007

Hi–got here from tracking back from my own blog.

Indeed, British English used the -ize spelling until quite recently, and it’s still a standard spelling in British English. It’s a myth that it’s an Americanism. My feeling is that, like the -re instead of -er ending for ‘centre’ and ‘theatre’, it shows a British taste for Frenchified spellings. I haven’t done an entire blog entry on this, but I quickly mention it in the context of discussing the British English use of the word ‘pressuri{s/z}e’ at http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.com/2006/09/inducting-orientating-and-pressurising.html, where I said:

“I should note that while I generally treat -ise forms as BrE and -ize as AmE, either is correct in British English, though people and publications have their preferences. I find that my students believe that -ize is not acceptable in British English. The British examples of this word [pressuri{s/z}e] in the OED have a (AmE) zee/(BrE) zed until the 1970s.”

So, one can see the -ize spelling as going back to one’s British roots!

6. babychaos - 9, May 2007

Hello there,

Thanks for stopping by!

I think you’re sort of right on the ise/ize although ize is very much Jane Austin’s era and ise the “english of today” except that it’s not of course because we’re all going back to ize again!

Absolutely, agree with you about the Frenchified aspect though, after all the lion’s share of English is, in fact, French – thank you The Normans.

That said, I don’t think it’s so much a preference but and since most changes in spelling seem to be driven by phonetics it’s a simple case of US prononciation changing in a different way to British once the two populations were separated by an ocean and a 6 month journey by ship. If you think about the way a Brit and an American say the word Theatre, the spelling makes a lot of sense. The US is pronounced “thee-ater” with the pause in the middle, whereas we Brits say “thearta” which, I guess, is still near enough to the French “teeatr” for the re to stay put. In the US colour is pronounced “color” wheras in Britain we say “culla” which, again, is more in line with how we pronounce it. You can see the same process though with the way some American surnames – especially the Irish and Scottish ones – end up being spelled – Magwire instead of McGuire or Maguire springs to mind – I hear them on that, nobody can spell my surname and I often wish I could phoneticise it! 😉

What is also interesting is the way other settlers in the US appear to have influenced the way the language has developed. So I often find that US English is a very exact form of language – from what I m told, more like German in this respect. Each word means one specific thing and there are usually no more than three or four words to describe something. Slang gets in but not nearly as much as in the UK and it doesn’t seem to stick in the same way either – you only have to look at the number of extra swearwords available to speakers of British English to see this.

I have really noticed the exactness, not so much with my own US rellies but when I meet their friends. If I don’t take care to simplify my language I am often barely understood – which I find incredibly strange! This is not a brain-power thing, it’s happened with university dons, it’s just that a lot of the things I’m describing may have five or six different names in UK english and just three or four in US English – two of which are not the same as ours. Even so, in British English there so seem to be more instances where the same word can double (treble or quadruple) up to mean a number of different things and as a result there are often five to ten ways of saying the same thing. So, for example, my rellies’ neighbours will understand if I am tired, exhausted, all-in or possibly even bushed but they will not understand what I’m on about if I tell them I am knackered, shagged, whacked out, dead beat, ready to drop, frazzled, ready for bed, near to somnambulent, plutzed or dead/asleep on my feet. I have a German friend, who learned her English in the US who said she found the language very straightforward until she came to Britain where we all spoke complete gobble-dy-gook. She said that in America “It’s less confusing, more like German, each word has a specific meaning which does not change.” I think this aspect of it is really intriguing.

It gets even more interesting when you look at South African and Aussie english which, from my limited exposure so far seems to have a bit of a mix of both US and UK spellings/pronounciations. It’s really intriguing how the two are the same, but different. Then again, a few millenia of separation and you end up with two different languages, German and English, for example!



7. lynneguist - 9, May 2007

Most Americans don’t say thee-ater. That’s what we say when we’re mocking the uncultured, for example our president. And I can’t say I agree with your analysis of the pronunciation of colo(u)r either. Yes, we pronounce it differently, but why does -our make more sense as a way of spelling ‘uh’ (as it’s pronounced in Southern BrE) than -or?

And, of course, not everyone is pronouncing these things the same way in either country. In Boston and some parts of New York, the ‘r’ in ‘colo(u)r’ isn’t pronounced, whereas in much of the British isles it is pronounced (though it’s not the same ‘r’ pronunciation as in the American). I think we have to give up on the notion that national spelling is related to dialectal pronunciation…

Anyhow, nice to ‘meet’ you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: