Between American and British Styles of Writing

Posted in Prose by Sandra on September 27, 2007

Singapore education takes after the British system, including spelling. For us, it is “colours”, “centre”, “licence” and “dialogue” – as compared to the American “colors”, “center”, “license”, and “dialog”.

A week ago, my ESL408 lecturer issued an ultimatum – we should either stick to the American, or the British style, since we are after all now in an American university. She did make leeway for the British style though, because most of us have been brought up under the Singapore educational system. While it might have been easy for some, I was tossed into a dilemma of sorts.

Firstly, I refused to give up spelling “-our” words as “-or” (ie, colours/colors.) The quiet “u” matters a lot to me, seemingly giving an otherwise more distinguished air to words we share with the American system. It hints at French or Latin – the roots of the word, and being a sucker for Romance languages, I find myself firmly clad in these “u”s, unwilling to let the “u”s fall off.

Secondly, I had an issue with the letter “z”, as could be seen in words like “analyse”(UK) or “analyze” (US). I mightily prefer “z”, purely for aesthetic reasons. A curling, seductive “z” seems to make the point so much better than the boringly sensual “s”, though that may be due to my writing style. A quick, short dash through the “z”‘s main stem delights me. It makes me feel more in control of my writing than I probably actually am.

So the situation is as such; while I lean towards the British style, the American “z” keeps pulling me away from the British. This mental debate has been bickering at the back of my head at the oddest moments, so today I finally went to the grand-daddy of free online encyclopedias; si, the much condemned “Wikipedia”. What I found there excited me very much, and almost at once threw me over the fence into the British court.

American spelling accepts only -ize endings in most cases, such as organize, recognize, and realize. British usage accepts both -ize and the more French-looking -ise (organise, recognise, realise). However, the -ize spelling is now rarely used in the UK in the mass media and newspapers, and is hence often incorrectly (emphasis mine) regarded as an Americanism,[29] despite being preferred by some authoritative British sources, including Fowler’s Modern English Usage and the Oxford English Dictionary, which until recently did not list the -ise form of many individual words, even as an alternative. Indeed, it firmly deprecates this usage, stating, “[T]he suffix…, whatever the element to which it is added, is in its origin the Gr[eek] -ιζειν, L[atin] -izāre; and, as the pronunciation is also with z, there is no reason why in English the special French spelling in -iser should be followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and phonetic.”[30] Noah Webster rejected -ise for the same reasons.

Yay! “-z” spellings are accepted in British English! However, it seems like it isn’t very popular in mainstream media…

But the OED might be fighting a losing battle. The -ise form is used often[citation needed], but seemingly not always[citation needed] by the British government and is more prevalent in common usage within the UK today; the ratio between -ise and -ize stands at 3:2 in the British National Corpus.[32]

Pfft… :( but then the article goes on to give me some hope!

The OED spelling (which can be indicated by the registered IANA language tag en-GB-oed), and thus -ize, is used in many British-based academic publications, such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. In Australia and New Zealand -ise spellings strongly prevail; the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, among other sources, gives the -ise spelling first. The -ise form is preferred in Australian English at a ratio of about 3:1 according to the Macquarie Dictionary. Conversely, Canadian usage is essentially like American, although -ise is occasionally found in Canada. Worldwide, -ize endings prevail in scientific writing and are commonly used by many international organisations.

I almost wish they wouldn’t lead me on such a rollercoaster ride, but ladies and gentlemen, I have made my choice: UK English is the way to go. Now, time to make sure my MacFling’s (that’ll be his name until I think of a decent one.) global language settings are configured to “British English”…

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One Response

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  1. wordwhisperer said, on August 11, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I <3 American grammar, though. I wish I could use British spelling and American grammar.


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