The Real Reason Brits and Americans Spell “Color” and Other Words Differently.

It’s common knowledge that the British and Americans have distinct spellings for certain words: “color” transforms into “colour,” “organize” shifts to “organise,” “liter” is rendered as “litre,” and “canceled” morphs into “cancelled” — not to mention the differences like “sneakers” being called “trainers” and “elevators” referred to as “lifts.” But how did these spelling discrepancies arise? The answer lies with one individual: Noah Webster, renowned for his work on the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

According to BBC America’s Anglophenia, prior to the late 18th century, people paid little attention to spelling, as only the elite few who were highly educated bothered with writing at all. Spoken language held far more significance than any notions of “correct” spelling, as evident in the informal style of letters from that era. However, the landscape began to change with the publication of Samuel Johnson‘s A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. Although it took some time, Johnson’s work gradually spurred the British towards adopting standardized spelling practices.

Once Johnson’s Dictionary gained traction, Americans were already causing commotion across the Atlantic. With the decision to pursue independence, it seemed fitting to establish our own unique spellings as well. Noah Webster took the helm of this endeavor, advocating for spelling reform in a 1789 essay. He argued, “As an independent people, our reputation abroad demands that, in all things, we should be federal; be national,” emphasizing the importance of self-respect in garnering respect from other nations.

Spelling became a contentious topic, with Noah Webster aiming to distinguish American English from British English by purging what he deemed as unnecessary “pedantic clutter” from the language. This involved streamlining words like “colour,” “catalogue,” and “programme” by removing surplus letters. Webster cemented these simplified spellings in the inaugural American dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, released in 1806.

Armed with this freshly minted dictionary and distinctly patriotic spellings, Americans forged ahead as an independent nation. However, it’s worth noting that despite these efforts, traces of British influence inevitably found their way into the American culture.

You’ve reached the end of the article. Please share it if you think it’s interesting.

Comments are closed.