On Colo(u)r #JusJoJan

Today, on day 23 of Linda Hill’s Just Jot It January, we have a prompt from S (which stands for supernaturalsnark), who blogs over at Hip To Be Snark and at Supernatural Snark, which I didn’t realize until I went over there today. Anyhoo, the word is

COLOUR

or, as we prefer in the United States,

COLOR

Yes, they are the same word, as are “honour” and “honor,” “defence” and “defense,” “theatre” and “theater,” “magick” and “magic,” and “cheque” and “check,” among many other words that are spelled differently between the United Kingdom (which, for my purposes here, includes England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and current and former Commonwealth nations such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, South Africa, Guyana etc.) and the United States.

The question is, why do Americans spell things differently from other English-speaking nations? Well, according to this article on Quora, it was because lexicographers such as Noah Webster decided to simplify spelling for those of us who speak the variant of the English language that we use in the United States, and to distinguish our use of the language from others. So, when he wrote his dictionary in the early-to-mid nineteenth century, he dropped the extra “u”s, changed “c”s to “s”s and “re”s to “er”s, dropped the final “k”s, changed final “que” to “k”, renamed the 26th letter of the alphabet “zee,” and changed all kinds of other things about the language because hey, they ain’t the boss of us anymore!

Early in the 20th century, there were further attempts made to simplify the spellings of words, such as changing “through” to “thru,” “thorough” to “thoro,” “socks” to “sox,” etc. One of the proponents of these changes was Col. Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune in the early 20th century (who no doubt is spinning in his grave over the 180° turn in editorial stance the paper has taken), most likely because he didn’t want to pay for the extra letters. You’ll see me slip “thru” in for “through” and make other similar substitutions, especially when I’m tired and my typing hand needs a rest.

So, which is right? Both, tho I’m certain an American teacher would tell you that “colour” is an unnecessary and pretentious affectation and that a British teacher would mark “color” wrong. Or maybe not. I know a number of Canadian writers who mix “color” and “colour” practically at will. Likewise Americans, but not while they were in school with nuns who believed that a misspelled word was like a nail in the Hand of Jesus…

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

9 thoughts on “On Colo(u)r #JusJoJan”

  1. Words change and evolve all the time and new ones get introduced. I can totally understand why people would rebel against the English version of the language especially when we have some strange letter combinations and words that can be pronounced in more ways than one and mean totally different things. It’s all very confusing.

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  2. Interesting post! It’s funny because these days I tend to mix them up, particularly when I’m using my phone to type. I used to be strict with sticking to the British spelling but I don’t think it matters much anymore. I don’t think it would even be marked wrong in school these days.

    And yes, I lead a double life on WordPress 🙂 Although, my original blog is mostly a desolate wasteland these days. 😂

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