War Of The Words

Oct 6 2012 @ 11:16am

Maria Konnikova laments the lack of standardization for English spelling:

And so it is that today, we find discrepancies not only between the greys and grays of the world, safely ensconced on their respective sides of the ocean, but between some of the leading bastions of the English language on the same side of the pond. If I’m focused on a writing assignment for The New York Times, I would do well to remember to become focussed if I’m to go over to the New Yorker. And forget any attempts to cooperate between the two. I’d be stuck in endless coöperation–or co-operation, should I try my hand at a piece for The Guardian–limbo before I could so much as look up the meaning of dieresis.

Relatedly, British words seem to be enjoying a comeback in the US:

The word gormless (the best American equivalent is probably “clueless”) is on the rise in the US, for example, says Stamper, but no-one thinks of it as a British word. For some reason it sounds Southern to many American ears.

There would have been no difference between British and American English when the founding fathers first crossed the Atlantic. It took time for the two to go their separate ways – a process given a jolt by Noah Webster, who published the first dictionary of American English in 1806, 30 years after the Declaration of Independence. Webster introduced the distinctive American spellings of words like “honour” (honor), “colour” (color), “defence” (defense), and “centre” (center), as well as including specifically American words like “skunk” and “chowder”. “He wanted very much for this budding new nation to have its own language,” says [Associate Editor] Kory Stamper, whose Merriam-Webster dictionary is the modern-day version of Webster’s work.