Athena

UK spelling vs. US spelling in US / UK editions

49 posts in this topic

I was reading the backs of some books and realised that sometimes a UK edition's text features British spelling and sometimes American spelling. When the original author is British I feel a UK edition generally features British spelling, but when the original author is American, the UK edition usually has US spelling (like in the original work).

 

I was wondering how the British and American people felt about this on the forum. Do you notice it in a book, when things are spelled differently than the language of your own country (British or American English)?

 

Or is it sometimes just the back of the book that has UK spelling whereas the book itself uses its original US spelling..

 

Anyway, I was just curious. When I type I try to use British spelling. In my book collection I have both US and UK editions of books (generally not the same books obviously) and it doesn't usually bother me in any way which of the spellings is used as long as it's consistent throughout the book. But I was wondering, for example for a British person, do you notice it when a book uses American spelling instead of British spelling?

 

Strangely enough this topic was sparked by the fact that I read the back of a book that featured both the words 'honour' (UK spelling) and 'organization' (US spelling). It was then that I noticed the discrepancy and started to think about what it's like for a British person to see American spelling in a book or vice versa. I haven't read this book so I don't know which spelling the book uses in general (US author, UK edition).

 

Like I said, I don't really notice it, except just now when there was a discrepancy and both spellings were used in the same bit of text, which is just wrong :doh:.

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It doesn't really bother me that much as it doesn't change the meaning of the word, what does annoy me is when you get a historical novel that uses modern names eg hallway for hall, although I know that many terms that we think are modern have actually been around for a long time!  But the different spellings are fine.

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I read a book set in 1797 England where the (American) author spelt the name of the (British) ship Endeavor - I thought that was sloppy writing/editing, as there is no way a British vessel would have US spelling.

 

Generally I don't mind (and certainly not if the book is set in America), although words written with a 'z' instead of an 's' do leap off the page at me!

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It's clangers like that which make me want to chuck the book across the room! :banghead:

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I hardly notice it. I'm usually so immersed in the story, it doesn't register.

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What really gets me are the following:
 

  1. The word "gotten" - the word is got, not gotten. "He had got it on holiday" rather than "he had gotten it on holiday".
  2. "Of" instead of "have", as in "he shouldn't have done that" - it only tends to be in self-published novels, but I have occasionally seen poorly edited professionally published novels that have the clanger "he shouldn't of done that" and it really grates on me every single time!
  3. "OK" in historical novels. I absolutely detest seeing "OK" instead of "alright" in an historical setting. It is enough for me to lose all respect for the author and so not enjoy the book any more and have to leave it unfinished. I also hate that in period drama on TV/film - it drives me nuts, and I have been known to scream at the screen when it happens!

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If I am honest I don't really think about it either, I agree though that the language a book is written in does need to be in historical and cultural context.

 

From the authors perspective (especially if you do self publish) it is very expensive to do two versions of a book with both American and English spellings. As the US is seen my many as the larger potential market this is the main reason why so many self published authors tend to prefer American English.  

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What really gets me are the following:

 

 

  • The word "gotten" - the word is got, not gotten. "He had got it on holiday" rather than "he had gotten it on holiday".
  • "Of" instead of "have", as in "he shouldn't have done that" - it only tends to be in self-published novels, but I have occasionally seen poorly edited professionally published novels that have the clanger "he shouldn't of done that" and it really grates on me every single time!
  • "OK" in historical novels. I absolutely detest seeing "OK" instead of "alright" in an historical setting. It is enough for me to lose all respect for the author and so not enjoy the book any more and have to leave it unfinished. I also hate that in period drama on TV/film - it drives me nuts, and I have been known to scream at the screen when it happens!

Number two infuriates me to no end.

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Me too.  :)

 

I love your Avatar, Lau_Lou. :wub:  I'm considering a reread of Charlotte's Web - I don't think I've read it since I was a child (when I read it multiple times).  :)

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Actually, it's a common misconception that "organisation' is British English and "organization" is US English.  Most words in British English that use the -ize and -ization ending are correct and if you look them up in the OED, the -ize and -ization ending will be the entry, and if you search for the -ise or -isation word, it will redirect you to the -ize or -ization entry.  You can still use the -ise and -isation, but the -ize and -ization are actually correct.  Even most British spell checkers don't pick this up though.

 

I think it most publishers will try to encourage their authors to amend the words to the local spelling, and change words that are different between the two countries (e.g. pants and trousers), but some authors do fight their corner to say that it should remain in their own countries version.  I remember Joanne Harris talking about it on Twitter recently, saying she fought for certain spellings and words in her US editions.

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Posted (edited)

It depends on context. In general terms, I prefer American English in American books and British English in British books. However, if a Brit is speaking, they should speak English and if an American is speaking, they should speak American-English. Connie Willis came very close to completely ruining her books Doomsday and Black Out/All Clear by using AE in the mouths of Brits, including the dreaded 'gotten', whilst Doomsday was blighted by 'mufflers'!. (Having said that, these offences were positively mild compared to some of her historical faux pas, such as a 20p piece existing WW2, as did, apparently, the Victoria Line etc etc.)
 

I read a book set in 1797 England where the (American) author spelt the name of the (British) ship Endeavor - I thought that was sloppy writing/editing, as there is no way a British vessel would have US spelling.

 

What a lovely irony! One of the space shuttles and the command module for Apollo 15 were both named 'Endeavour' after Captain Cooke's ship - including the British-English spelling!

Kell, I can only agree with you - they are all pet hates of mine too (especially of/have!). However, we should be careful - there is plenty of what we think is British-English that is in fact originally American! Claire points out the commonly believed -ise/-ize mistake (although I do spell consistently with -ise as I find the /-ize spellings too random
!
 

Edited by willoyd

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I don't really notice it in books but there is one thing that bugs me about US spellings. 

 

When I was at school it was drummed into us that NZ spelling is organisation etc.  If we put 'Z' we usually had to write the word a hundred times at lunch of something like that.  We were always told that was the US way of spelling it, and that in NZ we use 's'.  Nowadays it seems either is acceptable, but usually the 'z' spelling is more used.  

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"Of" instead of "have", as in "he shouldn't have done that" - it only tends to be in self-published novels, but I have occasionally seen poorly edited professionally published novels that have the clanger "he shouldn't of done that" and it really grates on me every single time!

This annoys me a lot too!

 

I was also thought to write "organisation" with an's', at school, and that 'z' was the US spelling. We were allowed to use the American English spelling for English class, as long as we used it consistently all the time (there was one person in our class for example, who had lived a year in the U.S. and I believe he used the AE spelling).

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Totally agree with all Kell's points, although the "s" and "z" doesn't bother me as it doesn't change the word as such.  Appalling editing really gets me too, I've noticed that books don't seem to be proof read at all nowadays, or if they are, they need new proof-readers!  So many errors I doubt they've been proofed at all sometimes.  And don't get me started on "gotten"!

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I would agree with Gaia - if a book is written by an American author, I would expect to see American spelling, and vice versa for British. When I've seen British books with American spelling, it has really leapt off the page at me. I have a couple of personal exceptions;

 

Jail/gaol - it will always be jail to me, gaol looks wrong.

 

Odour/odor - I can cope with color & honor, but the American spelling just looks too short! I know that's completely irrational, but I can't help it.

 

Couple of hours / couple hours - again, I realise that very often in speech, the word "of" is often dropped (in the same way that "of" replaces "have", but when it's written in a book not as part of a conversation, it seriously annoys me (are you listening Michael Connolly?). Again, completely irrational really.

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What really gets me are the following:

  • The word "gotten" - the word is got, not gotten. "He had got it on holiday" rather than "he had gotten it on holiday".
  • "Of" instead of "have", as in "he shouldn't have done that" - it only tends to be in self-published novels, but I have occasionally seen poorly edited professionally published novels that have the clanger "he shouldn't of done that" and it really grates on me every single time!
  • "OK" in historical novels. I absolutely detest seeing "OK" instead of "alright" in an historical setting. It is enough for me to lose all respect for the author and so not enjoy the book any more and have to leave it unfinished. I also hate that in period drama on TV/film - it drives me nuts, and I have been known to scream at the screen when it happens!

I was curious about the history of "OK" after you posted this as I'd never really thought about it, so I popped on to the OED again, and the first citation for it is in 1839, with quite a few recorded uses in written form throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and onwards. So, I guess it depends on the era the historical novel is set in! :D  

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Posted (edited)

Lots of us are inclined to think we know how things should be spelled but I learnt a lesson when I noticed above an old school gate the school motto included the word 'honor'. As this was in deepest Sussex, I was a bit puzzled. I researched it and sure enough, at the time the motto was erected over the gate, that was the correct way to spell it. Bill Bryson's book The Mother Tongue is very helpful on matters like we're discussing.

 

It seems that the Americans have hung on to man of the old spellings and it is the Brits who have evolved.

 

I was always taught that organization should be spelled with a 'z'. In my old OED 'z' is the first option. Anyone watch 'Morse'? One of the episodes showed where Morse realized that the killer could not be whatshisname because as an Oxford man he would never have spelled realize with an 's'.

 

I know a few British writers who stick to 'z' in some words. I'm inclined to think that Microsoft Spell Check decided that the Brits should have the 's' and it's stuck. It's certainly easier to go with the flow than to swim against the tide. But I do like to rebel sometimes. 

 

Good thread!

 

Edit - I meant to start this post with 'I agree with Chesil!'

Edited by Anna Faversham

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Posted (edited)

What really gets me are the following:

 

  • The word "gotten" - the word is got, not gotten. "He had got it on holiday" rather than "he had gotten it on holiday".

 

 

 

  • "Of" instead of "have", as in "he shouldn't have done that" - it only tends to be in self-published novels, but I have occasionally seen poorly edited professionally published novels that have the clanger "he shouldn't of done that" and it really grates on me every single time!

 

But 'gotten' is grammatically correct in some places! Whereas 'of' instead of  'have' is just grammatically incorrect all around. 

Edited by frankie

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It seems that the Americans have hung on to many of the old spellings and it is the Brits who have evolved.

I think it's a bit more mixed than that. There are some instances of hanging on to old spellings - I think 'gotten' is one of these - but in most cases, I think it's down to the reforms largely promulgated by Noah Webster (Franklin was in there too I think).

 

Thus, by the time Webster was putting his dictionary together, the spelling of 'honour/honor' had standardised on the former, although both were used pretty much equally until the 16th century. Webster then proposed a streamlining of American English spelling (partly inspired by his desire to underline American independence from the old mother country), one of which was the stripping out of silent letters like the 'u' in labour/honour etc.

 

The standardisation on -ize is a case in point. I was taught that -ize is used when the ending was based on the Greek, whilst the -ise ending came in as an alternative. My recent Shorter OED uses the -ize as the main spelling (confirming as such in the intro), and the -ise as an alternative. In some words, like advertise, only the -ise is appropriate. Webster decided to, largely, standardise on -ize, even words which have never been -ize in English. He also went for -yze, whilst English largely uses -yse.

 

I like the Morse anecdote! Sounds typical!

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But 'gotten' is grammatically correct in some places!

Only in American English now. It was once in British English, but hasn't been for some time - it's only used by people copying off American TV etc.

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Posted (edited)

Only in American English now. It was once in British English, but hasn't been for some time - it's only used by people copying off American TV etc.

 

And isn't American English English? :shrug: And how can it only be used by people copying off American TV when Americans use it too. 

 

Edit: Or did you perhaps mean that in the UK it's only used by people copying off American TV? 

Edited by frankie

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Posted (edited)

And isn't American English English? :shrug: And how can it only be used by people copying off American TV when Americans use it too.

 

No, American English is not the English we were talking about, i.e. the English (British English), as spelled in England, the rest of the UK, and the rest of the native English speaking world (although I stand to be corrected). Amongst native speakers, American English is specific primarily to the USA. There are also considerable differences in our vocabulary; there may even be a different grammar (I'm only familiar with English grammar, not American English grammar). Bill Bryson's book Made in America explains quite a lot of this.

 

Edit: Or did you perhaps mean that in the UK it's only used by people copying off American TV?

Yes - we were, after all, talking about (British) English when decrying the use of 'gotten'. In American English, 'gotten' is completely legitimate. I would also suggest that a lot of non-native English speakers learn quite a bit of their English from the TV etc - which might help explain the prevalence of the American accent amongst Western European English speakers.

Edited by willoyd

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Posted (edited)

No, American English is not the English we were talking about, i.e. the English (British English), as spelled in England, the rest of the UK, and the rest of the native English speaking world (although I stand to be corrected). Amongst native speakers, American English is specific primarily to the USA. There is also considerable difference in our vocabulary; there may even be a different grammar (I'm only familiar with English grammar, not American English grammar).

 

I was somehow under the impression that this topic is about both American English and British English? Sorry if I got that wrong.

 

 

Edit: Now I think where it got mixed! Kell was of course talking about 'gotten' from her point of view. As a British English speaker, she'll go for 'got'. I'm getting everything wrong today, happened at work, too! Sorry everyone! 

 

I would also suggest that a lot of non-native English speakers learn quite a bit of their English from the TV etc - which might help explain the prevalence of the American accent amongst Western European English speakers.

 

I would say it depends on whether they watch mostly American TV or British English TV, and even then it's also to do with one's personal preference. Some people feel British English is closer to home, some take to American English. As you all must know, I go with American English (although of course I make mistakes). However, a majority of my fellow English students from my uni days leaned towards British English. 

Edited by frankie

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Posted (edited)

I would say it depends on whether they watch mostly American TV or British English TV, and even then it's also to do with one's personal preference. Some people feel British English is closer to home, some take to American English. As you all must know, I go with American English (although of course I make mistakes). However, a majority of my fellow English students from my uni days leaned towards British English.

That makes sense to me. As a native British English speaker, it's good to hear that there are students who lean towards British English!  :smile: :smile:

 

BTW, good luck to them with spellings - as a teacher, they are definitely the aspect of English that my (native English speaking) children find most difficulty with.

Edited by willoyd

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