Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spelling Hell

I used to be a good speller. Please note the tense of that sentence. Sadly, I now find myself constantly second guessing how words should be spelled. Your first instinct might be to attribute this to the aging process. But that would only be if you are an American or Canadian. If you are British you will be attributing it to the ageing process. Therein lies the problem.

Canadian, American and British spellings are not uniform even though we all speak the same language. At least we are supposed to be speaking the same language. However, that lorry driver from Glasgow that Jay and I hitched a ride with when we were in Britain back in 1980 didn't seem to be aware of this fact. Nor did whoever was doing the announcements at Victoria Train Station in London. I digress.

When I blogged about my friend and I going on a yarn crawl in Vancouver should I have referred to it as our fibre day or our fiber day? If I use fiber as the spelling readers from around the globe will assume I am an American. If I spell the word as fibre Americans will assume I don't know how to spell. Litre/liter and theatre/theater would be examples of other words that fall into this category.

For many years after moving North of 49 I resisted using Canadian spellings. In what I considered to be a compromise I did teach my kids both versions and let them use whichever one they wanted. My line in the sand was the word for mother. I had grown up with a mom, and there was no way I could become a mum. On the other hand my husband grew up with a mum and to this day I think he struggles when saying the "o" word.

Please humour me by allowing me to illustrate another difference. And if you can't do that could you at least humor me by allowing another illustration? The our/or word ending difference is perhaps the biggest category and includes words like colour/color, honour/honor, neighbour/neighbor and rumour/rumor.

If the differences stopped there I would have been okay. Unfortunately they don't and I'm not. For instance, a month ago I got a renewal notice in the mail for my driver's licence. This being a word I don't often use my brain is still imprinted with the word license. At this point I'm so confused I can almost feel my grey matter shrinking. Ditto for my gray matter. And because I will be travelling across the border frequently I decided to get my enhanced driver's licence, which is supposed to be good for traveling to and from the US and Canada.

Perhaps most confusing of all is the fact that the presence of a monarch on our coins is no guarantee of strict allegiance to British spellings. If your child gets sick it doesn't matter if you are north or south of 49. You will seek out a pediatrician. Cross the Atlantic however and you will find yourself in search of a paediatrician.

I hope my Canadian and American readers will realize the difficulties that face a "made in the USA" brain that has been "outsourced to Canada." I hope my British readers will realise the same thing. If you see the occasional glaring spelling error please refrain from judgment. I already get enough judgement from my spell checker.

11 comments:

  1. Too funny! As an editor I deal with these issues pretty regularly. Just don't delve into text speak and you'll be ok. Text speak makes me shudder.

    As to Mum and Mom, those distinctions helped me with my mother-in-law. As my husband and I were very young when we started dating, by the time we got married my mother-in-law certainly wanted me to call her mom. I said no problem -- my mother was Mum anyhow!! My son writes mom, but pronounces it closer to mum. I tried for mum, but even in school here now most of what they are taught (so cards made at school, etc) is mom.

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  2. Yeah, this is really confusing for people whose English is not native language.

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  3. @kate - I am surprised they are using mom in the school setting. I wonder if eventually all Canadian spelling will give way to American. ??

    @leva - If it is this confusing for those of us whose native tongue is English it must be extremely confusing for those who don't speak English as their first language. I have often wondered if other languages have this problem. For instance, would you find spelling differences between the Spanish spelling in Mexico and Spain?

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  4. I am not good at Spanish but I have heard there are some diferences between those two countries. Of course because if the speakers of one language are separated geographicaly then their language takes two or more independent ways of development.

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  5. I've noticed many more American spellings in school. I think it's because people don't know how to reset the spell checker on the computer software, and the default is US English :)

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  6. LOL! I'd considered doing a post on the differences between US and Canadian spellings, perhaps attributing all thoses superfluous and misplaced letters on a lingering "Continental" influence. But I worried most of my readers would wonder what a car or airline had to do with spelling. Plus, since England isn't part of the Continent, the reference itself would be as incorrect as one "L" in travelling, except now traveling IS correct (according to my daughter's teacher). What a mess!

    A friend assures me the Viet language is much more clear. But since I'm still struggling to learn English, I doubt that will ever be of much help to me. =)

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  7. @Ric - It's nice to see you commenting again. You must be feeling better! Sorry I stole your idea for a post. Although I think you should still write it. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts from south of 49. :-)

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  8. Should we start a post about differences in vocabulary as well. Truck=lorry, trunk=boot, - the list could get very long.

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  9. @Janet - Yes, I think the list would be almost as long and confusing as the spelling list. I remember the first time I encountered the term jumper and wondered why a guy would be wearing a dress. :-)

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  10. Thank you for visiting my blog. I return your visit now and I find very funny your post here. I am not a native English speaker, as you already know. I learned an British English in school, of course but later on most of my readings (of the original books, of course) have been from American writers. So I always have this dilemma you are speaking about here....Thank you for not leaving me alone, even from different reasons :)

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  11. @Traveling Hawk- Thanks for visiting my blog! Yes, English can be a very confusing language. I have heard that Romanian can also be difficult to learn. The only thing I can say in Romanian is thank you.

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