Why do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?

by Lynn H

Have you ever wondered why there are so many differences in British and American spelling when they are essentially the same language?

Blame it on Noah Webster, the dictionary guy.

In the early days of the printing press, there was no agreed-upon standard to guide spelling or tools to help people spell correctly. In other words, writers could spell words any way they pleased. As the result, there could be several different spellings for any given word. People on both sides of the pond could say, “I realize the fiber has a different color,” or “I realise the fibre has a different colour,” or any combination of spellings that struck their fancy at the time.

Even Shakespeare waffled between spellings, using the word “center” ten times in his plays and “centre” only once. Even the bard’s play now known as Love’s Labour’s Lost was originally published in 1598 as Loves Labors Lost.

Everybody was pretty happy using whatever spelling suited them at the time. That is, until Mr. Webster got his knickers in a bunch after England and the United States went their separate ways. The lexicographer and political writer decided that Americans should distinguish themselves from the British ruling classes through spelling, and that he should be the bloke that tells people in the U.S. how to spell.

Noah Webster – Separating American English from the Mother Tung

Noah went to work. He learned 26 languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), Greek, Hebrew and Latin, to evaluate the etymology of words. He spent several years configuring and reconfiguring the spelling of words to reflect how they sound rolling off an American tongue. Plough became plow, axe became ax, and catalogue became catalog. He whacked the u out of armour, colour, behaviour, flavour, honour, savour, saviour, candour, demeanour, glamour, harbour, and many other English words.

Webster published his changes in his Compendious Dictionary, which was quite radical for its time. While he was applauded for removing the u and a few other changes, he was skewered for suggesting that “women” be spelled w-i-m-m-e-n and “tongue” be spelled t-u-n-g.

Noah didn’t give up, though. He went back to the drawing board and changed analyse and realise to analyze and realize, for example, and organise and paralyse to organize and paralyze. A mere 28 years later, he produced his first fully comprehensive dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, a work that influenced how generations of Americans would spell their words.

For more information on spelling words correctly – or to find a writer who knows how to spell all the best words – contact WriterAccess.

 

Lynn H. has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. In that time, she has penned thousands of articles for doctors, universities, researchers, small businesses, nursing organizations, musicians, sole proprietors and more. Lynn writes everything from blogs to white papers; her specialty is putting complex scientific concepts into simple, interesting terms. She specializes in medical writing, creating informative and engaging content for professionals in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, medical manufacturing, chiropractics, optometry, emergency care, plastic surgery, small businesses, municipalities, music industry, and others.


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