S or Z? British and American spelling, what’s the difference?

S or Z? British and American spelling, what’s the difference?

UK English Spelling vs. US English Spelling / The YUNiversity. Pinned from. theyuniversity.tumblr.com
UK English Spelling vs. US English Spelling / The YUNiversity. Pinned from. theyuniversity.tumblr.com

Since I started blogging I have read a great deal of material written in English by  writers from all over the world and have become facinated by the different variants and dialects that  I have encountered. I love the English language because it is a mongrel language which happily absorbs and takes in words from other languages and cultures. This may be one of the reasons that UK English and US English have several areas where UK and US spelling are different.  While American English has adapted the spelling to reflect the way that the words actually sound when they’re spoken, British English has tended to keep the spelling of words it has absorbed from other languages (e.g. French, Urdu,Arabic),  Through the processes of colonisation,emigration and transportation, Uk English was exported around the globe,soaking up useful words and making them it’s own. Then in the early twentieth century, a group of influential Americans, among them Benjamin Franklyn, Noah Webster, Isaac Pitman and Mark Twain, (who was a founding member of the Simplified Spelling Board) decided to clean up the language and make it more user friendly.

The Simplified Spelling Board was an American organization created in 1906 to reform the spelling of the English language, making it simpler and easier to learn, and eliminating many of what were considered to be its inconsistencies. The board’s initial list of 300 words was published on April 1, 1906. Much of the list included words ending with -ed changed to end -t (“addressed”, “caressed”, “missed”, “possessed” and “wished”, becoming “addresst”, “carest”, “mist”, “possest” and “wisht”, respectively). Other changes included removal of silent letters (“catalogue” to “catalog”), changing -re endings to -er (“calibre” and “sabre” to “caliber” and “saber”), changing “ough” to “o” to represent the long vowel sound in the new words altho, tho and thoro, and changes to represent the “z” sound with that letter, where “s” had been used (“brasen” and “surprise” becoming “brazen” and “surprize“).[9] Digraphs would also be eliminated, with the board promoting anemia, anesthesia, archeology, encyclopedia and orthopedic.

Wikipaedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_spelling_differences

As I say, I love the English Language with all its weird irregulatities of spelling and pronounciation, but I can see that these must make it difficult to learn and use. I’m still grappling with it , and I’ve been learning it for a long time. The video below is a humourous example of the spelling/prounciation which can cause difficulties. Enjoy!

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough
Others may stumble, but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, tough and through;
Well done! And how you wish perhaps
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead; it’s said like bed, not bead
For goodness sake don’t call it “deed”.
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt)
A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear.
And then there’s dose and rose and lose
Just look them up and goose and choose,
And cork and work and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come I’ve hardly made a start.
A dreadful language? Man alive
I mastered it when I was five.
– Unknown

Does it matter how we spell? I’d be interested to hear your opinion


12 thoughts on “S or Z? British and American spelling, what’s the difference?

  1. Hi Marilyn, No, I don’t think it does matter how we spell, but it can cause a lot of humour. I, for one, am currently in the middle of a series of posts with an American blogger, Ronovan, over at Rononvanwries, about this whole subject. The posts are all humorous and seem to be making the readers laugh, who in turn are telling us that they are loving the banter between a British and American blogger.
    It’s all great fun and if we are making people laugh, then it much be a good thing 🙂 and not matter.
    What do you think?


    1. Hi Hugh, I don’t think that it matters how we spell as long as the piece of writing is fit for purpose, ie communicates the author’s meaning to the target audience. Or not.As you say, variations in spelling can be good vehicles for humour.I used to proof read a lot of stuff, and I preferred to see either US or UK spelling used consistently in a piece. Incidentally, when reading students’ work, a sudden shift from US to UK(or vice versa) was sometimes a plagiarism alert, indicating careless cut and paste from the net. As a writer my main concern is the readers’ experience, if they’re happy, it’s all good.
      You and Ron are definitely a win double!


      1. I totally agree with you, Marilyn. At the end of the day, it’s what the reader gets out of what has been written. Very interesting to hear about those students cutting and pasting from the web and how easy it is to see the signs of when that happens. I wonder if any other languages have similar examples of where words are spelt differently depending on the country, or if English is the only one?


  2. Singapore was a british colony. So we were taught British English in schools (in terms of spelling). But with the internet and proliferation of Americanism, our Examination Board officially recognises both British and American Spelling. Though they recommend consistency in spelling, they won’t penalise a student for using both in the same piece of work.

    Nevertheless, most Singaporean students are proficient in immediately identifying the spelling to be either British or American. In fact, any argument over the ‘correct’ way of spelling is simply ludicrous (or funny) to us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In Canada we are caught between our past as a British colony and our neighbour (note that!) to the south. We use both spelling systems, which leads to lots of variety. We keep the “u” in colour and neighbour, but “tyre” looks very weird. A chain of stores that sells automotive supplies, hardware and housewares is called Canadian Tire; can’t imagine that with a “y.” But we call the final letter in the alphabet “zed” rather than “zee” as they do in the U.S. Most of us read both US and UK readers so are somewhat familiar with both flavours (!) of English. Interesting post!
    Thanks for following my blog, BTW.


  4. I like the poem. It was not too long ago that I noticed, with all the international communication we have nowadays, that the British spell certain words differently like using s instead of z in organization. This has fascinated me. My computer won’t even let me spell it with an s. And that is how I know the writer is British when I see the s used. We still do spell with -ough endings. You have educated me about ” The Simplified Spelling Board.”


  5. Even though I am from the US, I prefer British English all around. It has more character, more class, more complexity and the people who speak it seem to care about it more. Often the US version comes across as lazy and cheap, which is often reflective in our culture–but give us a break we are still a very young country. We’ll get there I hope.

    The thing that I do love about US English is the speed at which it adapts. Perhaps that is from people not caring about it as much, so people don’t hold each other to the same standard that they do in the UK. One thing I have found absolutely fascinating is the way that Hip-Hop has influenced US English, at times turning it into a merge of language and visual art. Good column.

    Liked by 1 person

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