When Canadians have to write something by hand, we have to stop and think about how to spell. Living in the shadow of our big southern neighbors, we grow up learning two systems, and so most of us are perennially unsure of ourselves.
In school, they teach us rules about words like favour, centre, programme, and grey. But, when we read books, news, or pretty much anything made in the States, it’s favor, center, program, and gray. Because of the outsized cultural influence of the US, we’re often stuck learning one way, but overwhelmingly being exposed to another.
The reason for the difference is that the US has made a partial, but concerted effort at spelling reform. I recently learned about this subject thanks to my favourite podcast, Lexicon Valley.
On this particular episode, guest host John McWhorter interviews professor, poet, and etymologist, Anatoly Liberman (whose Word Origins and How we Know Them I recently read and would absolutely recommend) about his work as president of the American Society for Spelling Reform and the need to regularise our written language. In the course of those quick 30 minutes, you’ll learn about why Liberman says English is one of, if not the, hardest languages to spell in, and historical efforts to make it simpler.
If you’ve got a commute, you’re going on a walk, or if you’re headed to the gym, give the episode a listen — you’ll be doing yourself a favo(u)r.