How do you spell this?


Today we are going to Muse about English and the problems with spelling.  If this is your first visit, welcome to Musings. If you have been here before, welcome back. Over time we are going to talk about many things: the past, the present, perhaps the future, travel, art, society and more. Wherever my musing takes me. I hope you will come along with me.

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Which is correct?

Last month the news featured some young contestants in a spelling bee.  They were amazing and could spell words I had never even heard of before.  I don’t know how they do it.  There are so many oddities in the way we spell.

It seems that there are several forms of English: American English and British English being the principal ones.  They have many similarities but in certain instances they differ in spelling and in how the language is spoken.  For example, an American will say something is burned.  An Englishman will say something is burnt.  An American will say, “I’ll see you Tuesday” where an Englishman will say “I’ll see you on Tuesday”.

Noah Webster PortraitNational Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. Photo by Billy Hathorn

Noah Webster Portrait National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Photo by Billy Hathorn

Many of the differences were intentional and can be traced back to one man, Noah Webster, known later for his Dictionary.  Noah Webster was a great  educator in the early days of our United States.   According to Wikipedia  he felt the country was superior to Europe.

He wanted to differentiate the United States from Europe in the use of language. Wikipedia goes on to say “Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so his dictionary introduced American English spellings, replacing “colour” with “color”, substituting “wagon” for “waggon”, and printing “center” instead of “centre”. He also added American words, like “skunk” and “squash”, that did not appear in British dictionaries.

He is an interesting person to read about.

But as to the subject of English in general,  anyway you look at it, English is full of inconsistencies.

In an article on the differences in American spelling and British spelling Wikipedia points out differences:


Most words ending in an unstressed -our in British English (e.g. colour, flavour, harbour, honour, humour, labour, neighbour, rumour) end in -or in American English (color, flavor, harbor, honor, humor, labor, neighbor, rumor). Wherever the vowel is unreduced in pronunciation, e.g. contour, velour, paramour and troubadour the spelling is the same everywhere.


In British English, some words from French, Latin or Greek end with a consonant followed by -re, with the -re unstressed and pronounced /əɹ/. In American English, most of these words have the ending -er. The difference is most common for words ending -bre or -tre: British spellings calibre, centre, fibre, goitre, litre, lustre, manoeuvre,meagre, metre, mitre, nitre, ochre, reconnoitre, sabre, saltpetre, sepulchre, sombre, spectre, theatre (see exceptions) and titre all have -er in American spelling.

Most English words that today use -er were spelled -re at one time or another. In American English, almost all of these have become -er, while in British English only some of them have. The latter include chapter, December, disaster, enter, filter, letter, member, minister, monster, November, number, October, oyster, perimeter, parameter,powder,proper, September, sober and tender.

-ise-ize (-isation-ization)

American spelling avoids -ise endings in words like organize, realize and recognize. British spelling mostly uses -ise, while -ize is also used (organise / organize, realise /realize, recognise / recognize)

This is mind numbing to me.  Thank you for spellcheck.

more to come

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About Thomas L. Tribby

Professional artist: painter, sculptor, print maker. Maintains a studio in West Palm Beach, Florida
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