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International English spelling

With the spread of printing and literacy, spelling became standardized. In the U.S. Noah Webster, who wrote the first dictionary of American English, successfully introduced new spellings, which became standard in the U.S. Now that the Internet has facilitated international written communication, there is a need for an international standard of English spelling.

One could say that Americans should just adopt the spellings of the English as written by the English people, that is, British English. That is not likely to happen. For one thing, American idioms are influential internationally. Look at how “OK” became international.

There have been attempts to promote International English that are more concerned with ease of learning than with spelling. While spelling differences are minor, those publishing for an international audience need to have some standards. Editors do, too.

I certainly don’t have the last word on this, but I can at least make some suggestions and adopt them myself. If there are good reasons to retain the British spelling, let’s do so. But if American norms are OK or have advantages, let’s not shy from adopting them instead. Here are a few suggestions for the purpose of this blog:

(1) Metric units. The International System of Units uses British spellings. It also has the advantage of preserving a spelling distinction between a device or instrument for measuring and the other meanings of meter in American English. Adopt the British spelling.

(2) Other distinctions are sometimes obscured in Noah Webster’s shorter spellings. For example, the meaning of the suffixes -er and -or as “one who…” such as carpenter and author are obscured by changing other words to end in -er and -or. Meter is an example of the former; color is an example of the latter (one who cols?). Since the British spelling preserves these distinctions, they should be adopted.

(3) There are many variants of spelling (or terminology) that have no particular advantage one way or the other. Traveling or travelling? The former is American, the latter British. The American rule is “when a multisyllabic word ends in a vowel and a consonant (in that order), you double the consonant when adding a suffix only if the stress falls on the final syllable.” I usually prefer the American usage in that case.