A word on spelling differences

A word on spelling differences

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The amount of emails I get teaching me ‘how to spell’ is quite astounding, to the point that I have been forced to write this blog post. As an example, below is a recent email I received regarding my ‘incorrect’ British spelling.

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“Hey my friend, Great work im looking for a person to design my CD cover, as I came across your web site great work!!!!

On your web site, go to your “About” page 3rd paragraph, the word Honor is mis-spelled would not want you to lose work over it. People are strange when hiring someone.peace”

I hope you can see the irony here.

Although I am no Oxford English major, I want to inform you that there are differences between American & British spelling. I am Australian and due to our British heritage, also use the British way of spelling.

This means we spell a number of words differently, the most criticised listed here:

  • Colour / Color
  • Favourite / Favorite
  • Honour / Honor
  • Specialising / Specializing
  • Criticise / Criticize
  • Centre / Center
  • Analogue / Analog
  • Defence / Defense
  • Cheques / Checks

There are many more, so please take a moment out of your day to learn the differences between American and British spelling.

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As a disclaimer, I know that no one is perfect and not everyone has English as their first language, but this is a problem and people need to be educated. Like my email friend pointed out, bad spelling could potentially lose a client.

How many grammatical / spelling mistakes can you point out in this post?

41 thoughts on “A word on spelling differences”

  1. … and poor Canada caught right in the middle.

    I’ve lived this issue, having studied in England. In fact, while my spoken accent has returned to native New Jersey, my fingers still have the accent. I find the International spelling of many words simply easier to type! Anything ending in -ize I will prefer to spell -ise, but it opens me up to looking like a nitwit who can’t spell. Colour, at least, is a well-known alternate, which I do prefer as well.

    There are more subtle examples, like “Judgement” where the spelling isn’t clear as to whether to include the first e, in this case. No matter the country of origin, there are alternate, accepted spellings. Other examples include jewellry with one L or two, and dialogue with a UE at the end.

    Avoid confusion, don’t write anything. Just talk.

  2. I understand completely, here in Canada we spell our words the British (for the most part) way. The real problem, for us is the strong ties we have with our American friends to the South. A good portion of our population doesn’t realize/acknowledge there is a difference in the spelling of many common words.

    There is one word that the Aussies spell differently that gets me every time: Gaol (thats jail for the for the rest of English speaking world).

  3. I would never volunteer to correct your English, but these are special circumstances. You’ve thrown out a challenge and, I’m sure, seeded this post with errors for the purpose.

    Here are the errors I see:

    1. The phrase “amount of emails” should be changed to either “number of emails” or “amount of email”.

    2. Verb forms in the first sentence don’t match: “get” is present tense and “have been forced” is … um, something else (present perfect, maybe?).

    3. The phrase “due to our British heritage” should be surround by a pair of commas or no commas at all; one comma is improper.

    4. “Like my email friend pointed out” should be “as my email friend pointed out.” “Like” is not a conjunction.

    5. “This means we spell a number of words differently, the most criticised listed here:” — You could choose to change the comma to a semi-colon or split the the text into two sentences. In both cases, the word “are” should be added after the word “criticised.”

    Personally, I think British spelling is the cat’s pyjamas.

  4. I think that if I had received an email like that I would have taken my time to email the sender back and point out his/her grammatical errors. I come from England, but it does not bother me seeing sites that are obviously written using American English. The only real gripe I have about spelling on the web is that browsers do not understand colour, you’d be amazed how often I automatically type the British spelling in style sheets.

  5. Well Jacob, don’t let that get you down. You get snobs in all areas who think something is the right way, even though the British spelling is probably the most correct traditionally, but you’re not english. I think email should have a dash like this “e-mail” or does it matter?, cool post!

  6. I am glad you wrote a post about this. While I am American I think this is a very important thing to make us aware of if we don’t already know.

    Something I have always wondered is whether or not to use both spellings when optimizing websites for keywords. It may not have that big of an impact but just a thought.

  7. A great post. I’m an American designer living in London England. Since I’ve been here for 2 and half years I’ve gotten very familiar with the British way spelling. American and Britain are divided by a common language. I hear it all the time in the office “We created the language… so there.” I always take it in stride. When I return to the States this June I will have to remember and try to spell certain words the ‘American’ way. I don’t mind but wish they would at least adopt the paper measurement system. It’s so much easier… A4, A3, A2 etc….

  8. What I’ve found, being Canadian and speaking to Americans a lot, is that we generally know there’s a difference while they don’t.

    @Andy – I agree. I spend a lot of time spelling colour “wrong” in my stylesheets too haha.

  9. The same happens between Portuguese from Portugal and Portuguese from Brazil.


    Your nationality always counts!

  10. I have been living in Canada for a few months and being raised in the US I defiantly have had to do a few double takes…especially after I bought my computer here…my spell check keeps telling me I spelled words like color and center wrong, lol. People can be ignorant to what they don’t know and sometimes feel the need to tell other people what’s right or wrong. I think if your are going to say anything be able to back it with facts…

  11. Ha! Though American myself, I have to agree with @Dunn, most Americans don’t know the difference. As a notoriously bad speller, whether a mistake or difference in culture, you’d hope people would look past and focus on the work.

    Great blog and work!

  12. Does spelling matter so much in designing community; except when it comes to informative blogs/sites ?

    I guess art isn’t about rules, its about creativity.

    Spelling ‘YOU’ as ‘U’ isn’t wrong in art; I THINK

  13. Can’t we use the following technique while web designing ?

    Use American English as standard and markup them with acronym tag which would show the other spelling of it ?

  14. I’m from Trinidad & Tobago (Caribbean) and it is the same there, we were a British colony once, so we have kept the British way of spelling. Now that I am living in the states, I have to consciously think about how I spell words, especially the ones that include a U like Colour. (As I type that, spell check is telling me it’s wrong lol)

  15. I almost fell out of my chair laughing on this one. It’s especially funny because I rarely point out the “mistake” in American spelling. No point. Different cultures, in spite of inhabiting the same continent.

    Thanks for the good laugh.

  16. Living in Australia i guess i have always grown up with the British way of spelling.. but we still used a mixture of both American and British spelling don’t we? Examples could be like the Australian Defence Force or the Commonwealth Bank?

  17. Interesting post. Just one thing that shouts out in my mind. English as in spelling in English is the correct way. Thats unless I start to shorten words or change the words completely to suit the nation I come from 😀 hahaha If its the enlgish language and its not spelt the English way, well its just incorrect.

    An english man in New york


  18. I am an American but I lived with a lovely British family for a year. I picked up many spelling and pronunciation differences from them and still struggle to Americanize myself at times. I don’t know if I have a conscious preference for the British versions or if it just feels more natural. I do appreciate your annoyance at that person’s email.


  19. I wouldn’t concern yourself too much with someone whom can’t distinguish the subtle differences between languages… you will never have to worry about competing with them for work anyhow.

    In his case, I would be more be worried about proper punctuation, his thoughts nearly get lost in translation in structure alone.

  20. Being danish, and speaking english as a second/third language, I’ve always wondered about the different ways of spelling certain words. I never realized the difference was between american english and british english. I always just thought it was the pronounciation that differed.

    Now I feel I have to go and have a talk with my elementary english teacher :p

  21. Scott,
    I would reply, but that would mean writing.

    I guess optimizing for keywords depends on your target audience, I usually stick to one kind and let the crawlers do the rest.

    Yeah that word even gets me, I usually spell it jail to avoid confusion. It’s just one of those words.

    Had a quick read through of your post, good to see you changed back. I also keep to one way, simply because it’s easier and that’s how I was taught. Ryan is right as well, we do spell it gaol unfortunately.

    Picked up on a few I didn’t intend to put in there, thanks for pointing them out. Glad I made that little disclaimer… no one’s perfect. Not so sure what you meant about point number 3, could you please explain this a bit more?

    I find that the majority of people who make that many mistakes in two sentences, are not really the clients you want to be working for. You never know though.

    Not getting me down but it’s been a long time coming.

    I think in that case, either would work as the pronunciation kind of sounds like ‘z’ though personally I would still use my native spelling and do ‘high res’.

    Ignorance is bliss.

    Spelling, measurement, sizing… all different in the US. I don’t see them changing any time soon.

    Did you know you can change your spellchecker and choice of English? If you do this, you won’t be pulled up by your computer asking you to change.

    Ironic, huh?

    See my comment to Hanan above.

    I’ve learned many different US words / meanings in the past four months… most notably, the difference between chips and crisps, I still get caught up on that one.

    This is a site that can be accessed world wide, so whatever way I choose to spell, there are still going to be people who spell differently. Personally, I’m going to go with the way I was taught as it’s more natural, even if I am living in the USA.

  22. Amusing article. I’ve had to contend with color/colour in coding for ages so was aware of the spelling differences quite early on.

    Additionally, there are a few words which do not exist in American English, such as “knackered”. There are also words which have different meanings between the languages, such as “pants” and “fanny”.

    Even British English has its own differences in different regions. Hailing from Northern Ireland originally, I still get picked on when I say “arr” instead of “ou-er”. Thankfully you can’t tell this difference in text.

  23. Superb Post Jacob,

    We have to stick to one of them isn’t it? American or British. I am more into American English. As here English is not the primary language. (Sinhala – Sri Lanka)
    So i am more into American English because i used spell checker most of the time which it uses American English.

    Great Post Jacob,
    Keep on rocking…

  24. Hey Jacob,

    Wouldn’t it be better for you to just change the language you use on here to prevent people from thinking you can’t spell?

    This post will help for a short while but afterwards there are going to be more people you have to respond to in email about this.

    Just trying to help you out man.

  25. Jacob,

    I think this email was rediciolus, instead of critiquing you, she should have cared about how she writes “im” and/or putting four exclamation marks “!!!!”.

    At least, you still care about your native English/accent, so that counts! 🙂

    – Mahmoud

  26. Jacob,

    About point 3: An independent clause in the middle of a sentence should be surrounded by commas. (If omitting the clause leaves you with a complete sentence, then it’s an independent clause.) If the clause is short, you can omit the commas. The independent clause “due to our British heritage” should probably have been surrounded by the pair of commas, but you could make the case for omitting them.

    No biggie. I was just trying to be thorough 🙂

  27. I really do not understand the point of this debate. Quite simply, with spelling, I do not see the need to have two ways of spelling the same word. And, whether it is the Americans or any other group of people who are responsible for this dual spelling, it is a burden for the practitioner of a language to have to remember two different ways of spelling the same word. Strangely enough, why don’t we have a case where a word has three different, accepted ways of spelling instead of just two? Or do we indeed have such cases? I wish that were not the case. And if they thought it made any sense or resulted in any benefit at all to have these different spellings, why did they stop with just some words and not invent a whole set of alternative spellings for the entire dictionary, an alternative dictionary in fact?

    Now tell me whether you get a clue as to my nationality by reading the above passage. Well, when one is a native of a region, we expect them to speak the language of that region in a way in which it has been spoken for a very long time and in a way which is considered correct. That is all. Naturally, when someone speaks that language any differently, it shows. Those who speak the language differently may be clear and precise and convey what they like to communicate, yet the difference is heard and felt. It is different, but can it be for that reason considered deficient in any sense? It is possible for a Russian or an Indian to speak and write English very well, just as it is possible for an American or Canadian or a Briton to speak Russian or Hindi very well, provided they apply themselves and learn the new language with passion.

    Spelling and pronunciation are largely a matter of convention, based on phonetics and euphony. It is a matter of individual taste and preference whether one wants to use a language well enough to communicate effectively, powerfully and beautifully. Being a native does not confer upon one virtues of correctness and clarity. If you are about to undergo a life-saving operation, would you care at all what your surgeon’s nationality is?
    It’s high time we discarded generalizations based on nationality or for that matter on anything else at all. Let’s stop saying ‘the British are this’, ‘the Americans are that’ and ‘the Japanese are whatever’ and all such convenient but utter nonsense. All nations and communities have their share of fools and geniuses. The individual has all the clues for one to assess who they are, can be and what they are up to, whether the context is politics, economics, war, terrorism or whatever.

    Let me end this with a little incident. I was having a text chat with this guy on the Internet. He misspelt eight words out of ten regularly and was quite unconcerned about this habit. I said to him that when he could remember all the passwords for his Internet accounts he could also spell his words correctly, too. I was pleasantly surprised when he agreed with me.

  28. lol, I had an American girlfriend who’d get most annoyed when I pointed out that American spelling is a corruption of the original English. Well, it is.

    Picture the scene: a log cabin in the Rockies, a man is writing a letter to his friend in Georgia:

    “Eliza! How does ya spell [criticise]?”

    She did not like that. At all. But it’s true of all language, developments are corruptions of previous standards. Try reading the King James Bible. Try Shakespeare or Chaucer, they’re gibberish, but the way we spell now would be heinously wrong to them.

    That being said, the American accent today is according to linguists much closer to the English of 200 years ago than Standard Southern English.

  29. S Vaidyanathan,
    I wasn’t trying to cause any debate, but rather state that there are differences to be aware of, though you do make some valid points, thanks for your input.

  30. Haha… I like this post, Jacob! Americans can be very ignorant when it comes to a lot of things and spelling is one of them. I’ve been caught a few times myself.

    Nick and I recently interviewed a young entrepreneur from the UK and he used the word “whilst” in the interview and it made it’s way into the book. I tried to correct him, but he corrected me.

  31. You guys also call an eraser, a rubber… and hum, here in the US, you couldn’t erase much with a rubber ; )
    Anyway, yes languages are different, and it is our greatest benefit to learn them the best we can. Being from France originally, I always make an effort to spell right.
    Thanks for the fun post!

  32. I’ve lived in the US my entire life, not counting that I was born in the UK, and I have always used mixed bits of brit-English spellings. Much to the shagrin of my English schoolteachers. Mainly honour, colour, and things ending in -ise. Haven’t gotten as far as to use tyre, though.

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