Jun 292012

English Spelling Conventions
originally titled: Excuse Me, Your Americanism is Showing

As a preface, this is not going to be a rant against Americans, but it may be a rant against people who don’t realize there are other countries and conventions other than their own.

I recently came across a discussion about an author who received a bad review based on numerous misspellings in her book. Which is not unusual, but the misspellings turned out to be not true errors, but the British spellings of certain words. Now the bad review just seems rude and ignorant.

In a world that gets smaller by the day, where a book can be bought internationally by speakers of multiple languages, I find it sad that some people are oblivious to the fact that there are two common English spelling conventions: British and American. Neither is wrong.

Growing up in Canada, I learned British spelling in school, but was familiar with American spelling too. It’s prevalent in books and other written documents around here. I rarely notice which convention is used when reading books, because it just doesn’t matter to me.

But once you move south of the border, it seems that some Americans are oblivious to the fact that two spelling conventions exist. This ignorance extents beyond this small point to include most anything about the world outside the US borders, but since this is a book blog, let’s stick to that. I want to say that I am not trying to pick on Americans, but it seems that most stories of this nature are Amercians downtalking British spelling. Rarely does it ever happen the other way around.

The point being that there are two spelling conventions, and neither is wrong. To say otherwise, or to treat one as inferior to the other is just plain rude. Not just to the author, but to everyone who uses that convention on a day-to-day basis.

Stepping off my soapbox now. So, do you notice what spelling convention a book uses while you are reading it?

  11 Responses to “Discussion: English Spelling Conventions”

  1. That's both unbelievable and sad! (not to imply that you're lying, just that it seems so beyond the ken for a book review.)

    I mean, so few Americans actually read and write book reviews, it seems to me almost impossible that among the ones who do, one of them wouldn't recognize a different set of spelling rules and base a negative review on those differences.

    As an American reader (& reviewer), I suspect I always notice when I see “colour” instead of “color”, or “aluminium” instead of “aluminum.” But I happen to enjoy seeing the differences because language is such fun! I also try to remember to shift pronunciations in my head for words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently in non-American English, like lieutenant. Reading Jane Austen and not thinking “left-tennant” would somehow distract from the story, for example.

  2. Sarah…although i probably notice the difference, i don't necessarily take note of it. I agree that Americans often don't see across their border, and don't seem to learn geography about other countries like we Canadians do about the U.S.A. Just sayin' – aren't we all Americans if we live in the Americas? So what can we call those south of our border and north of the Mexican border?

  3. Wow. I don't think I've ever run across someone who noticed the spelling differences and thought they were errors. I don't know how many Americans are aware of the difference – it's not something that pops up in conversations – but I've known about it since I was little. I only notice the differences when I'm reading a book by an author I didn't realize was from a country using the British spellings.

    BTW, I'm American.

  4. I do notice the different spellings, but I can't say that they bother me…unless the character is supposed to BE an American living in the US. But even then, it doesn't bother me like the simple geography errors do. In fact, now that I give it some thought….it REALLY only bothers me when there is something else about the book I don't like….I guess it just gives me something to nitpick about. Nice, huh?

    But seriously, I don't get the 'so few Americans actually read and write book reviews', and 'don't learn about geography'. To me, that feels like 'bashing' despite Sarah's desire for this not to turn into a bashing thread. And both statements are SOOOOO untrue!!

  5. I only really notice the difference when I'm typing up the synopsis of a book before my review and it uses a word that I normally put a u in (being Canadian), like colour or favourite. I have to usually backspace and take out the u since I automatically type it in. The differences are not something I normally take notice of when reading.

    Although, it would go a long way in helping get rid of the notion that the British/Canadian spelling is “wrong” if Word and the internet would stop underlining in red those words spelled differently (like the two I typed above). Not wrong, just different =P

    • You can set your Word and internet to use British spelling for dictionaries, and then you won't get the annoying red lines for the spelling differences.

  6. I don't really notice them while reading unless the book is by a Canadian author and it doesn't use the Canadian spelling. Then I always feel a little betrayed.
    Like thekams however it drives me nuts when I use Canadian spelling and the little red line comes up. One of my biggest pet peeves

  7. This is interesting. I am American, and I am aware of British English, primarily because my father was educated in Hong Kong (and I was born there too) and he and I would have arguments about pronunciations and spellings often.

    I can't say i notice the different spelling as much as I notice the language differences. In British novels I see a lot more “snogging” or “bloody.”

    And I read much more American literature than Canadian or British. I inevitably think up an “accent” when I read British literature.

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

  8. Interesting discussion Sarah! I have a slightly skewed perspective on this as I grew up in Australia (where we also love the letter U!), and now live in the Netherlands, working with a mixture of Dutch people (who tend to lean towards American spellings) and English people who spell like me.

    I really started to notice the difference when I started blogging – and a few times I've caught myself using American spelling without thinking about it (except the word colour – without a U it just looks odd).

    Having such a varied perspective, I tend not to notice it in books. I don't even really notice differences in language/slang any more.

  9. Great post! Being an American I'm not aware of all the spelling differences, but I am aware of some of them. I guess the whole thing doesn't really matter to me because I don't really notice spelling errors or differences unless I read over something more then once.

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