It’s our language and we want it back!

Julia is absolutely right – we need to be a little more proactive in claiming back our language from these vowel-dropping ex-colonial types.

properEnglish.png

Yes, it’s petty*, but I’m currently working on a manuscript about palaeomagnetism and iron sulphides, and being forced to constantly spell everything wrong does get to you after a while.
*Pedantic, too, but I consider that to be a compliment.

Categories: ranting

Comments (28)

  1. Lab Cat says:

    Not forgetting to change the -ises on verbs (ionise) and the extra “l”s that are occasionally required.
    Other than sulphur, the word I find particularly annoying is esophagus. It starts with an o.
    Says a Brit in the US

  2. Nelson Muntz says:

    I once lived in Centre County — in Pennsylvania. Most of the residents spelled it wrong.

  3. Chris says:

    If you want to be snobby, “palaeo” is spelled with an iota, not an epsilon. “Sulphur” and “(o)esophagus” are Greek too, not “English.” You could just as easily say “esophagus” should be “oisophagus,” since once again, the Greek spelling uses an iota, not an epsilon. Or you could just accept that spelling changes over time and geography.

  4. Propter Doc says:

    feces/faeces; hemoglobin/haemoglobin; color/colour; aluminum/aluminium; ass/arse;
    This irritates me…

  5. shrug says:

    ^^Shrug^^ More USians than UKers. Majority rules. Suck it up.

  6. Maria Brumm says:

    Chris, Noah Webster died for u.
    Anyway, shouldn’t it be palÊo, with a proper ligature?

  7. Scott Belyea says:

    Petty, pedantic … and pointless.

  8. SMC says:

    In other news, I hear the price of platinium is going through the roof. I wonder if manufacturing prices will skyrocket if the cost of molybdenium also goes up?

    (While I do find myself sometimes preferring British spellings for some “English” words for purely aesthetic reasons, I’m not sure what the benefit is of having redundant spellings for the same phonemes (f/ph, or/our, er/re, etc.) – aside from the fact writing “the fone is ringing!” makes one look like an illiterate…)

  9. Laelaps says:

    Wasn’t this covered in the Intolerable Acts?
    The next thing you know you’ll be telling me that I should be eating bangers and mash for breakfast (I kid, I kid…).

  10. blf says:

    This nit has repeatedly caused me problems in my career (as a software engineer n?©e programmer). I’ve had USAian customers complain about documentation containing British spelling even in examples of deliberately localised output; a number of the companies I’ve worked for have required USAian spelling in customer-facing documentation; and there’s always a question ahout what to do with a file or program’s name is spelt differently (should the file be called “colours” or “colors”?).
    I’ve no recollection of a non-USAian ever complaining about the use of USAian spelling.
    Weirdly, I don’t recall ever having an issue with the placement or style of quote-marks; or with commas (is it “foo, bar, and spam” or “foo, bar and spam”?). I once did have an issue with one or two spaces after a full stop (period), but that was an argument with a French-speaking editor (for the English-language documentation!), and is perhaps in a class of its own.

  11. The Hon. Roderick Cuthbert Smythe-Fortescue says:

    Lindsey Davies, author of sort-of detective stories set in Ancient Rome (the “Falco” series, they’re good fun), grumbles about American readers ticking her off as if she’s ignorant because she uses “corn” in its original (non-American, but current British) sense of any grain crop (especially wheat) – the yellow lumpy stuff on a cob being “maize”. What irks her is that the complainers seem to think she should produce a special dumbed-down edition for people who can’t cope with the fact that a few words in English change meaning (usually slightly) as one goes round the world, while British, Australian, New Zealand, South African etc. etc. readers cope perfectly contentedly with this phenomenon.
    (Americans might be interested to read Bill Bryson on why your ancestors changed the meaning of the word “corn”!)

  12. Kim says:

    Well, the Journal of Metamorphic Geology changed all my spellings, too – but from US to UK spellings.
    Meanwhile, my students use both US and UK textbooks, and have trouble remember that “dikes” and “dykes” are the same thing to geologists.

  13. Ellery says:

    One of the members on my Master’s committee noted that I had used both “sulfur” and “sulphur” throughout my thesis. I had to point out that for every occurrence of “sulphur” I was quoting a British author and that I and American authors used “sulfur” — I admit that it was a bit jarring to read both spellings in the same sentence, but I couldn’t see a way around it.
    Far more confusing is the difference between an American “billion” and a British “billion.” The American billion is one thousand million (10^9) whereas the British billion is one million million (10^12). Now I feel like I have to put scientific notation in parenthesis whenever I write the word “billion” in a paper or something.

  14. The spelling mistake that really annoys me isn’t a colloquial variation, but rather the wholesale substitution of the word “than” with the word “then”. As in “Olivine is better then obsidian”.

  15. Ole says:

    My mother tongue is not English. I am sorry for every time I have abused your language, but I always try to do my best, because i think correct language is extremely important. I may not always get the grammar right or use the right words, but at least my spell checker can take care of most of the spelling – and that is of course set to UK English. When quoting American authors I agree, however, that the US spelling is unavoidable.

  16. Ellery says:

    Chris said: “The spelling mistake that really annoys me isn’t a colloquial variation, but rather the wholesale substitution of the word “than” with the word “then”. As in “Olivine is better then obsidian’.”
    I am equally offended by the use of “then” instead of “than” and the implication than olivine is somehow superior to obsidian :)

  17. Ellery says:

    And, of course, I made a typo while writing my terribly witty reply. I meant “… the implication that olivine…”

  18. Mister DNA says:

    If it’s any consolation to those of you who speak the Queen’s English, when I say the word “color”, I pronounce it as “colour”.

  19. Katie says:

    This is probably a bad time to tell my story of taking a tour of London and almost stopping someone to ask which plug I should use for my headphones. There wasn’t an American flag above any of the holes, you see, and I was dreadfully confused until I realized that the British would probably use their own flag for the English language. Then I was rather glad I hadn’t asked for help. So though I admire your effort here, I fear you have a long, difficult road ahead of you. But good luck.

  20. Grumpy says:

    It’s my understanding that “sulfur” was officially adopted by IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, with emphasis on the I for International). Maybe geologists haven’t caught up. As an Australian, I agree with all the rest.

  21. Lab Lemming says:

    Chris,
    Shouldn’t that be “paedantic”?
    ;)
    Ellery,
    The suffixes giga- and tera- should sort out your billion problem.
    Shrug:
    “More USians than UKers. Majority rules. Suck it up.”
    Mate, I think you are going to be in for a rude shock as India industrialises and increases the use of their second language.
    And finally, how do y’all spell the mineral name for barium sulphate?

  22. Ellery says:

    LL,
    I always spell it “barite” but have seen “baryte” before.
    According to Wikipedia:
    “When the International Mineralogical Association formed in 1959 the american spelling ‘Barite’ was chosen as the official over the older ‘Baryte’. This decision was reversed in 1978[1].”
    [1] Mineralogical Magazine 38, 104 (1971)
    I’ll have to look that up and read the details for myself, though.

  23. clay says:

    I’m an Aussie and it amazes me how many word documents you read where the user has not changed the language to UK English or Australian English (whatever that is?) so Z’s and F’s abound. With them most frustrating thing being that when you try to change the default language to something other than US English it always seems to get back to the US version somehow. It must be a conspiracy of some kind :p I have even tried to delete the US English dictionary though have not had any luck.
    Being over in Western Australia my main gripes are Archaean/Archean and Palaeochannel/Paleochannel.
    There isn’t even a wikipedia entry for Archaean, you are automatically redirected to Archean :(

  24. Narc says:

    You Brits had the language first, which means it’s our turn now. Fair’s fair.

  25. speedwell says:

    Do NOT get me started on what punctuation belongs inside or outside quotation marks.

  26. Dunc says:

    Far more confusing is the difference between an American “billion” and a British “billion.” The American billion is one thousand million (10^9) whereas the British billion is one million million (10^12).

    The “long” billion is almost completely extinct these days.

  27. Julia says:

    Laelaps: “The next thing you know you’ll be telling me that I should be eating bangers and mash for breakfast (I kid, I kid…).”
    Brian – not even the most patriotic Brit would dream of eating bangers and mash for breakfast! Breakfast should be bacon (real bacon, not that shrivelled crispy crackling the US calls “bacon”), eggs (we only have one way of frying an egg, and it’s called “fried”), sausages (not Polish, not frankfurters, not “links”, just pork sausages), baked beans (real baked beans in tomato sauce, not that dull brown stuff the US markets as baked beans), black pudding (yes, it’s blood – got a problem with that?) and fried bread (not “French toast” – we might make a concession to eggy bread, which is totally different to French toast). Personally I wouldn’t go for tomatoes and mushrooms, but I know British people who would send back their fry-up as incomplete if it missed these vital ingredients.
    Bangers and mash is dinner food. We have it with gravy. Which in the UK is brown and runny, not white and gloopy.
    SMC: “In other news, I hear the price of platinium is going through the roof. I wonder if manufacturing prices will skyrocket if the cost of molybdenium also goes up?”
    Well if you’re trying to make out that we’re not being consistent, I count 67 elements with “-ium” at the end (including Aluminium), and four with “-um” without the i. And “aluminium” is the standardised IUPAC spelling.
    I’d be less dogmatic about it, but if I had £1 for every time an American told me or my husband that we spoke English “real good for a foreigner” I wouldn’t need to work.
    But going back to your original point Chris – I always write everything in British English, and only when I’m ready to distribute the prose to an American recipient do I change the spelling. It makes it all hurt a bit less.

  28. Ron Schott says:

    You can’t have it!