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Spelling Duals From the 49th Parallel

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I am of two minds.

I’m not talking about my wild mood swings at monthly intervals, I’m talking about spelling.

Brought up and educated in Canada, I have learned to spell using British English as opposed to American English. British English generally houses a couple of extra letters, for example it’s colour not color, and analogue not analog. If in doubt, throw in a rogue “u” to make it Canadian. I write with candour, and clamour to make chilli for dinner (this is the British English spelling for chilli – doesn’t it look better to you?); whereas if I was born south of the border I would write with candor, and clamor to make chili.

You Americans are more to the point, more phonetically accurate.

In Canada, true to our bilingual mandate, we ask for the cheque in restaurants, not the check. We measure in litres,not liters, but don’t get me talking about our weather inconsistencies – for the love of god, is 75 degrees Fahrenheit shorts weather or not? You must agree the Celsius scale, which uses zero degrees as the freezing point, makes more sense.

Canada wins on the weather front, America on the spelling, where brevity is concerned.

Of course in this new marvellous (as opposed to marvelous) world where spell check conveniently underlines every word we misspell, getting it right takes on a new lustre, lest your document be egregiously underlined and marked up like a SoCal woman undergoing plastic surgery. It’s hard to press send or publish with red lines all over your page, which happens if the spellcheck program happens to be of a different nationality than yourself. This causes me no end of grief.

If anyone is a mixed bag it is I: I read roughly half American publications, half Canadian, and have a weakness for British classics and The Economist magazine. I’m bombarded by glaring spelling differences on a daily basis. Who to honour? My British heritage or geographic neighbour? Ignore all of those red slashes on my screen, or give in to the spelling my computer wants? Who wears the pants, the pajamas or the pyjamas?

We Canadians are clearly caught in the middle, victims of circumstance, fed by the leviathan of American marketing, yet still hearing echoes of the British English that we were taught. Not a stickler for details, I tend to be ambidextrous on the point, switching from one usage to the other depending on the word – I actually prefer skeptic to sceptic, for instance.

It seems congruent with our easy going nature that when it comes to spelling, Canadians can swing both ways. I hereby exempt myself from labouring the point any further, red lines be damned.

  1. February 9, 2011 at 2:18 am

    I’ve never seen chili spelled with 2 l’s…that’s a new one on me!

    Having spent my first eight years in the States, I was in culture shock the first few years after we moved to Canada. They were just changing over to the metric system when I got here in 1969, so I still do the conversion to Fahrenheit when I want to know whether to bring a sweater! When I cook, I still use the Imperial system too!

    I never use Spellcheck…I generally catch my own mistakes as I make them!


    • February 9, 2011 at 10:41 pm

      I wish I could ignore spell check, or turn it off. It clearly doesn’t like me!

  2. February 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I would just consider yourself a master of language! My 100% American vocabulary still gets plenty of red lines during the Spell Check process. For a little Tennessee girl like me, I love the elaborate look of Canadian/ British English words because they seem that much more sophicated and foreign!

    • February 9, 2011 at 10:44 pm

      Jack of all trades, master of none – I’m not sure which is which anymore!

  3. February 9, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Quick note–
    I left something special for you over at my blog.
    Hope you don’t mind, Deanna!

    • February 9, 2011 at 10:46 pm

      Kathy – you are too sweet. And I was just wondering what to blog about today!
      Thanks for paying it forward – I will attempt to put on my creative hat and rise to the challenge.

  4. February 9, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    Wow, and here I thought it was tough when I moved from Pennsylvania to the midwest for grad school!

    • February 10, 2011 at 5:09 pm

      Yes – and I didn’t even mention the different punctuation rules regarding quotation marks for our different countries. So many decisions!

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