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American spelling

English translation: Blame it on Noah Webster

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GLOSSARY ENTRY (DERIVED FROM QUESTION BELOW)
English term or phrase:American spelling
English translation:Blame it on Noah Webster
Entered by: Kim Metzger
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12:00 Mar 24, 2003
English to English translations [PRO]
Art/Literary / Spelling Bee
English term or phrase: American spelling
I know the English has a lot of borrowed French words and these are spelled differently than the original French spelling.

But why do the Americans spell their words differently from the British? The original American pioneering settlers in the days of the Wild Wild West were largely British, weren't they? Which means they were of the same race and language group, yet the differences? How did it happen in the first place?

Examples of American/British spelling:
- center/centre
- hood/bonnet
- license/licence
- tumor/tumour
- maneuver/manoeuvre
- savory/savoury
- smolder/smoulder
- shakable/shakeable
- councilor/councillor
- ruble/rouble
- jewelry/jewellery
- cozy/cosy
#41698 (LSF)
Malaysia
Local time: 07:14
Blame it on Noah Webster
Explanation:
When spelling was formalized by such people as Noah Webster in the US and others in the UK, there were many existing options. Dictionary writers selected one version and their choices tended to stick. Here's an interesting discussion from the book "The Origins and Development of the English Language" by Thomas Pyles and John Algeo

British and American Spelling
Finally, there is the matter of spelling, which looms larger in the consciousness of those who are concerned with national differences than it deserves to. Somewhat exotic to American eyes are ‘cheque’ (for drawing money from a bank), cyder, cypher, gaol, kerb (of a street), pyjamas, syren, and tyre (around a wheel). But check, cider, cipher, jail, curb, pajamas, siren, and tire are also current in England in varying degrees.
Noah Webster, through the influence of his spelling book and dictionaries, was responsible for Americans settling upon –or spellings for a group of words spelled in his day with either –or or –our: armo(u)r, behavio(u)r, colo(u)r, favo(u)r, etc. The resultant American –or spellings are today far more obnoxious to the English than than the alternative forms with –our are to Americans, who, in addition to reading a great many books printed in England, are quite accustomed to seeing ‘glamour’ and ‘saviour’ in books printed in their own country. All such words were current in earlier British English without the ‘u’, though most Britishers today are probably unaware of the fact; Webster was making no radical change in English spelling habits. Furthermore, the English had themselves struck the ‘u’ from a great many words earlier spelled –our, alternating with
-or: author, doctor, emperor, error, governor, horror, mirror, and senator, among others.
Webster is also responsible for the American practice of using –er instead of the –re that the British came to favor in a number of words – for instance, calibre, centre, litre, manoevre, metre (of poetry or of the unit of length in the metric system), sepulchre, and theatre. The last of these spellings competes with American theater, especially in proper names. It is regarded by many of its users as an elegant (because British) spelling and by others as an affectation. Except for litre, which did not come into English until the nineteenth century, all these words occur in earlier British English with –er.
The American use of –se in defense, offense, and pretense, in which the English usually have –ce, is also attributable to the precept and practice of Webster, though he did not recommend fense for fence, which is simply an aphetic form of defense (or defence). Spellings with –se occurred in earlier English for all these words, including fence. ‘Suspense’ is now usually so spelled in British English.
Webster proposed dropping final ‘k’ in such words as almanac, musick, physick, publick, and traffick, bringing about a change that has occurred in British English as well. His proposed burdoc, cassoc, and hassoc now regularly end in k, whereas havock, in which he neglected to drop the ‘k’, is everywhere spelled without it.
Though he was not the first to recommend it, Webster is doubtless to be credited with the American spelling practice of not doubling final ‘l’ when adding a suffix except in words stressed on their final syllables – for example, grovel, groveled, groveler, groveling, but propel, propelled, propeller, propelling, propellant. Modern British spelling usually doubles ‘l’ before a suffix regardless of the position of the stress, as in grovelled, groveller, and so forth.
The British use of ae and oe looks strange to Americans in anaemic, gynaecology, haemorrhage, paediatrician, and in diarrhoea, homoeopathy, manoevre, and oesophagus, but less so in aesthetic, archaelogy, and encyclopaedia, which are fairly common in American usage. Some words earlier written with one or the other of these digraphs long ago underwent simplification – for example, phaenomenon, oeconomy, and poenology. Others are in the process of simplification: hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, and medieval are frequent British variants of the forms with ae.
Most British writers use –ise for the verbal suffix written –ize in America in such words as baptize, organize, and sympathize. However, the Times of London, the OED, H.C. Wyld’s Universal Dictionary (1932), the various editions of Daniel Jones’s English Pronouncing Dictionary, and a number of other publications of considerable intellectual prestige prefer the spelling with ‘z’, which, in the words of the OED, is “at once etymological and phonetic.” (The suffix is ultimately from Greek –izein.) The ct of connection and inflection is due to the influence of connect and inflect. The etymologically sounder spellings connexion and inflexion, reflecting their sources in Latin connexion(em) and inflexion(em), are used by most writers, or at any rate by most printers, in England.
Spelling reform has been a recurring preoccupation of would-be language engineers on both sides of the Atlantic. Webster, who loved tinkering with all aspects of language, had contemplated far flashier spelling reforms than the simplifications he succeeded in getting adopted. For instance, he advocated lopping off the final e of –ine, ite, and –ive in final syllables (thus medicin, definit, fugitiv), using oo for ou in group and soup, writing tung for tongue, and deleting the a in bread, feather, and the like; but in time he abandoned these unsuccessful, albeit sensible, spellings. Those of Webster’s spellings that were generally adopted were choices among existing options, not his inventions. The financier Andrew Carnegie and President Theodore Roosevelt both supported a reformed spelling in the early years of this century, including such simplifications as catalog for catalogue, claspt for clasped, gage or gauge, program for programme, and thoro for thorough. Some of the spellings they advocated have been generally adopted, some are still used as variants, but many are rarely used now.


--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2003-03-24 15:16:59 (GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Those of Webster’s spellings that were generally adopted were choices among existing options, not his inventions.
Selected response from:

Kim Metzger
Mexico
Local time: 18:14
Grading comment
Great illustration.

Chris Rowson got a point or two but I think Shakespeare's time was the Renaissance (words like thou or thee do not appear in neither US nor UK's modern day versions), which was much earlier than Independence day 1776.
4 KudoZ points were awarded for this answer

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Summary of answers provided
4 +5Blame it on Noah Webster
Kim Metzger
5Spelling only became standardised during the time of colonisation.Chris Rowson
5American spelling
Gayle Wallimann
4See link
Florence Evans
5 -1People grow apart...Gilbert Ashley


Discussion entries: 2





  

Answers


6 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5 peer agreement (net): -1
People grow apart...


Explanation:
Actually the modern spellings in Britain are not the same as they were 200 years ago. Another interesting thing is that not all the original settlers of America were British. They were about as many German speakers as English speakers. In fact, when the United States Constitution was written, there was agreat debate over whether it should be written in English or in German. Imagine the political implications if it had been written in German!

Gilbert Ashley
PRO pts in pair: 16

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
disagree  Mike Birch: nonsense
14 mins

disagree  Jonathan Spector: I never heard such a thing.
44 mins

neutral  xxxveszelka: I also heard about this (perhaps in a Vonnegut novel). It was said that the offitial language of the U.S. actually hinged on one single vote. I agree with Michael Birch, though.
51 mins

neutral  Gayle Wallimann: The part about German is a legend.See link: http://www.urbanlegends.com/language/german_us_official_lang...
1 hr

agree  David Sirett: ...with the first two sentences. In some periods (e.g. 1880-1890) German-Scandinavian immigrants did outnumber English speakers (British/Irish). Don't think German-speakers ever got anywhere near a majority of the population, though!
1 hr

neutral  Chris Rowson: http://www.urbanlegends.com/language/german_us_official_lang...
7 hrs
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15 mins   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5

1 hr   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
American spelling


Explanation:
Spelling changes come about every once in a while when educators decide that there is a simpler, more way of spelling a word, sometimes closer to the way a word is pronounced. Take a look at the links below, it explains the phenomenon very well.

As for exam marking, it depends on which exam. The Cambridge exam accepts both spellings, however the vocabulary has to be British. It may change, though. (see second reference)

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2003-03-24 13:30:07 (GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Sorry, I forgot a word, it should read \"a simpler, more logical way of spelling a word...\"

Also, take a look at the links below, \"they\" explain...
(I am tired!)


    www.barnsdle.demon.co.uk/spell/engori.html - 4k
    www.disal.com.br/nroutes/nr12/pgnr12_06.htm - 10k
Gayle Wallimann
Local time: 01:14
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 172
Login to enter a peer comment (or grade)

3 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 4/5Answerer confidence 4/5 peer agreement (net): +5
Blame it on Noah Webster


Explanation:
When spelling was formalized by such people as Noah Webster in the US and others in the UK, there were many existing options. Dictionary writers selected one version and their choices tended to stick. Here's an interesting discussion from the book "The Origins and Development of the English Language" by Thomas Pyles and John Algeo

British and American Spelling
Finally, there is the matter of spelling, which looms larger in the consciousness of those who are concerned with national differences than it deserves to. Somewhat exotic to American eyes are ‘cheque’ (for drawing money from a bank), cyder, cypher, gaol, kerb (of a street), pyjamas, syren, and tyre (around a wheel). But check, cider, cipher, jail, curb, pajamas, siren, and tire are also current in England in varying degrees.
Noah Webster, through the influence of his spelling book and dictionaries, was responsible for Americans settling upon –or spellings for a group of words spelled in his day with either –or or –our: armo(u)r, behavio(u)r, colo(u)r, favo(u)r, etc. The resultant American –or spellings are today far more obnoxious to the English than than the alternative forms with –our are to Americans, who, in addition to reading a great many books printed in England, are quite accustomed to seeing ‘glamour’ and ‘saviour’ in books printed in their own country. All such words were current in earlier British English without the ‘u’, though most Britishers today are probably unaware of the fact; Webster was making no radical change in English spelling habits. Furthermore, the English had themselves struck the ‘u’ from a great many words earlier spelled –our, alternating with
-or: author, doctor, emperor, error, governor, horror, mirror, and senator, among others.
Webster is also responsible for the American practice of using –er instead of the –re that the British came to favor in a number of words – for instance, calibre, centre, litre, manoevre, metre (of poetry or of the unit of length in the metric system), sepulchre, and theatre. The last of these spellings competes with American theater, especially in proper names. It is regarded by many of its users as an elegant (because British) spelling and by others as an affectation. Except for litre, which did not come into English until the nineteenth century, all these words occur in earlier British English with –er.
The American use of –se in defense, offense, and pretense, in which the English usually have –ce, is also attributable to the precept and practice of Webster, though he did not recommend fense for fence, which is simply an aphetic form of defense (or defence). Spellings with –se occurred in earlier English for all these words, including fence. ‘Suspense’ is now usually so spelled in British English.
Webster proposed dropping final ‘k’ in such words as almanac, musick, physick, publick, and traffick, bringing about a change that has occurred in British English as well. His proposed burdoc, cassoc, and hassoc now regularly end in k, whereas havock, in which he neglected to drop the ‘k’, is everywhere spelled without it.
Though he was not the first to recommend it, Webster is doubtless to be credited with the American spelling practice of not doubling final ‘l’ when adding a suffix except in words stressed on their final syllables – for example, grovel, groveled, groveler, groveling, but propel, propelled, propeller, propelling, propellant. Modern British spelling usually doubles ‘l’ before a suffix regardless of the position of the stress, as in grovelled, groveller, and so forth.
The British use of ae and oe looks strange to Americans in anaemic, gynaecology, haemorrhage, paediatrician, and in diarrhoea, homoeopathy, manoevre, and oesophagus, but less so in aesthetic, archaelogy, and encyclopaedia, which are fairly common in American usage. Some words earlier written with one or the other of these digraphs long ago underwent simplification – for example, phaenomenon, oeconomy, and poenology. Others are in the process of simplification: hemorrhage, hemorrhoids, and medieval are frequent British variants of the forms with ae.
Most British writers use –ise for the verbal suffix written –ize in America in such words as baptize, organize, and sympathize. However, the Times of London, the OED, H.C. Wyld’s Universal Dictionary (1932), the various editions of Daniel Jones’s English Pronouncing Dictionary, and a number of other publications of considerable intellectual prestige prefer the spelling with ‘z’, which, in the words of the OED, is “at once etymological and phonetic.” (The suffix is ultimately from Greek –izein.) The ct of connection and inflection is due to the influence of connect and inflect. The etymologically sounder spellings connexion and inflexion, reflecting their sources in Latin connexion(em) and inflexion(em), are used by most writers, or at any rate by most printers, in England.
Spelling reform has been a recurring preoccupation of would-be language engineers on both sides of the Atlantic. Webster, who loved tinkering with all aspects of language, had contemplated far flashier spelling reforms than the simplifications he succeeded in getting adopted. For instance, he advocated lopping off the final e of –ine, ite, and –ive in final syllables (thus medicin, definit, fugitiv), using oo for ou in group and soup, writing tung for tongue, and deleting the a in bread, feather, and the like; but in time he abandoned these unsuccessful, albeit sensible, spellings. Those of Webster’s spellings that were generally adopted were choices among existing options, not his inventions. The financier Andrew Carnegie and President Theodore Roosevelt both supported a reformed spelling in the early years of this century, including such simplifications as catalog for catalogue, claspt for clasped, gage or gauge, program for programme, and thoro for thorough. Some of the spellings they advocated have been generally adopted, some are still used as variants, but many are rarely used now.


--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2003-03-24 15:16:59 (GMT)
--------------------------------------------------

Those of Webster’s spellings that were generally adopted were choices among existing options, not his inventions.

Kim Metzger
Mexico
Local time: 18:14
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 2249
Grading comment
Great illustration.

Chris Rowson got a point or two but I think Shakespeare's time was the Renaissance (words like thou or thee do not appear in neither US nor UK's modern day versions), which was much earlier than Independence day 1776.

Peer comments on this answer (and responses from the answerer)
agree  xxxIno66
40 mins

agree  eldira
2 hrs

agree  David Knowles: Very helpful, especially the note about a choice among existing options
3 hrs

agree  Chris Rowson: Yes, but who are these guys you are quoting? I very rarely see "inflexion" and "connexion" other than from Americans. And "-ize"? I grew up near Oxford, and went to school there, and when I see "-ize" it just looks wrong to me.
4 hrs
  -> Times Online: -ise, -isation avoid the z construction in almost all cases, eg, apologise, organise, emphasise, televise. But note capsize, synthesizer

agree  Peter Coles: Samuel in the UK and Webster in the US. Johnson wanted to preserve the origins of words so leaned towards historic spellings when compiling his dictionary. Webster believed in a more phonetic approach and wished to create a uniquely American English
8 hrs
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7 hrs   confidence: Answerer confidence 5/5
Spelling only became standardised during the time of colonisation.


Explanation:
English spelling only became standardised during the period of colonisation of North America by English-speaking settlers. You only have to look at some English literature from that period to see this.

Shakespeare, for example, early in that period, used radically different spellings from what is now considered correct. This also applies, in slighly lesser degree, to writers such as Dryden, later in the seventeenth century. During the eighteenth century, spelling progressively became more standardised, but variations are to be found even in nineteenth century literature.

The crystallisation took a slightly different path in the widely separated continents. As Kim describes, this was partly due to conscious efforts, particularly by Webster, but was in any case present.

The idea of there being a single correct spelling is really only a twentieth century phenomemon. Previously you could write a word as you chose, and there are signs that in some domains this is again becoming the case. But yes, UK examiners require that you use English spellings, and even I complain when I correct translations which are supposed to be into British English where the translator has used American spellings. (German schools apparently teach a confused mix while thinking they teach "Oxford English").

--------------------------------------------------
Note added at 2003-03-26 04:16:52 (GMT) Post-grading
--------------------------------------------------

Shakespeare´s time was indeed somewhat earlier than 1776, but the question referred to the \"original American pioneering settlers\", with whom he does overlap, although, as I said, early in that period. The conclusion of the question - \"How did it happen in the first place?\" - also calls for background.

Chris Rowson
Local time: 01:14
Native speaker of: Native in EnglishEnglish
PRO pts in pair: 243
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