This is the first blog I’ve done on this subject, but regular readers in the UK will probably have noticed I use what is often considered as ‘American’ spelling. It is true that many of the spellings I use are more common in the USA, but I actually pick and choose how I spell words from the many variations permitted in the English language as spoken in the USA, UK, etc..
There are some instances where I use the spellings either more commonly used in the UK, or which were once commonly used in the UK. Examples of the former are: skilful, enrolment, instalment, fullfil as opposed to the US versions: skillful, enrollment, installment, fulfill. Examples of the latter (no longer commonly used in UK and virtually unknown in USA): connexion, reflexion.
There are some spellings commonly used in the USA which have gone out of fashion in the UK, and I always use these. Examples: -ize and -ized instead of -ise/-ised as in organize/organized. These -ize/-ized suffixes are preferred by the Oxford English Dictionary, and commonly used in certain British broadsheet newspapers.
However there are many spellings thought of in UK as being entirely American which were not only commonly used in the UK in former times and now rarely are, but are actually preferred by the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler’s Modern English Usage (also published by the Oxford University Press).
Fowler’s Modern English Usage points out, for instance, that there are far more words even in the UK ending in -or than in the British -our suffix, and that the latter doesn’t serve any useful purpose, other than distinguishing the spellings from those used in America.
In past times spellings like labor were commonly used in Britain and this form also shows the Latin root of such words. Fowler’s also points out that -our suffixes are even in UK gradually being replaced by -or as witnessed by the now defunct spellings like governour.
Fowler’s also points out that the Oxford English Dictionary denies any value to the quaint British -our suffix in words like honour, odour, favour, glamour, etc. The fact that even in Britain many of these words drop the superfluous ‘u’ in their longer forms just proves how inconsistent our spelling is. Examples: deodorant, coloration, colorific, honorary, honorific, glamorous, glamorize/glamorise.
Two more categories where spellings are commonly different in USA and UK are the -er/-re endings of words like center/centre, theatre/theater and the double or single l in words like traveling/travelling, traveler/travelling. With the former, I prefer the more phonetic spelling common in the USA, and as regards adding an l to words like travel, this serves no useful purpose and, in fact, suggests the accented syllable is the second one rather than the first, which of course is incorrect.
Another category of words spelt differently on either side of the Atlantic are the -og/ogue suffixes of words like analog/analogue, catalog/catalogue, monolog/monologue. Needless to say I always use the shorter and more phonetic spelling.
Another word on its own spelt differently in USA and UK is analyze/analyse. Again I use the more phonetic spelling more common in USA.
There are many words which are usually spelt differently in USA and UK which don’t fall into these main categories, some examples being: check/cheque, aluminum/aluminium, furor/furore, sulfur/sulphur, gray/grey. Some of these have different pronunciations in the two countries. Where the pronunciation is the same, I use the version more common in the USA if it is more phonetic. The argument that it is useful to see the distinction between check as in the pattern and cheque as in an order for payment falls down when you realize such a distinction cannot be made in speech, but we fully understand which word is being used by the context.
There are also a host of other words where shorter or more phonetic spellings are commonly used in the USA but are almost unknown in UK and which have come about in America since Noah Webster’s time by usage in stores, newspapers, etc. These include spellings such as sox and cigaret instead of socks and cigarette. I have also adopted these shorter spellings.
In short I believe in this age of the Internet when international variations in the spelling of English have become more widespread, we should have the widest choice in how we spell words. My guide would be the Official Scrabble Dictionary which includes all accepted spellings for proper words, though discounting abbreviations like za for pizza. Similarly short forms adopted in first Telex and now Texting language should not be used in more formal English: therefore forms such as c u soon or gr8 for see you soon/great are not acceptable in books, letters and official/semi-official documents.
As to spelling reform in the future, to go too far would make existing books unreadable. George Bernard Shaw, a strong advocate of spelling reform, proposed an entirely new alphabet to make English phonetic, which seems rather extreme. However modest reforms can be made gradually, and to avoid the controversy sparked by some suggestions I made in a previous article on spelling reform (on my old Unorthodox Website, click on the link above left and check the article if you’re interested) I won’t propose any new spellings here.
If it’s a proper word, the pronunciation is the same and it is in the Official Scrabble Dictionary and commonly used on computers and on the Internet, I would say any such spelling is acceptable for most written use of English. The only exception would be in very formal documents where unofficial spellings commonly used in USA such as sox/cigaret are not acceptable even in America.