Do yourself a favo(u)r and learn about spelling reform

240 words.

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.

2 thoughts on “Do yourself a favo(u)r and learn about spelling reform”

  1. This is very true! I’ve even been in the process of writing assignments and stopped to make sure I was uniform in whichever way I chose to spell these words!

  2. Interesting topic. I lived in the UK so I tend to lean towards the British spellings rather than the American. Canadians certainly have been influenced by both. British English is influenced by Latin and French, and as a result sometimes there is two words for some noun: sun and solar, moon and lunar, filet and steak, and so on. The Americans were colonizers, so their English must have been influenced by other countries that settled there?

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