Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Origin of American Spellings

I've always wondered what caused the divergence of American and British spellings. It turns out the origin wasn't simply the passage of time or an oceanic separation. An article by BBC's Anglophenia blog explains that the standardization of language and spelling (on both sides of the Atlantic) didn't occur until the 1800s. Noah Webster wrote several books establishing new rules for American spelling and grammar,  in order to "wrest control of the language from the British ruling classes." In an attempt to spell words more like how they're pronounced, defence became defense; theatre became theater. He dropped "u" from several words "to differentiate...from the ones that end in -our and sound like -ower," such as hour. For example, honour became honor.

These changes aside, American spelling is still difficult and confusing. The English language itself is full of idiosyncrasies, contradictions, and quirks. At least now I can helpfully inform people at dinner parties how colour became color. I'm sure they'll be fascinated.

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