“I refuse to believe that Canadian spelling is even a thing.”

After reviewing an earlier blog post, where we corrected his spelling of color to colour, Alex agreed to the change but left behind a comment in the Google Doc:

“I refuse to believe that Canadian spelling is even a thing.”

And thus, the gauntlet was thrown down. 

Doug: Apparently our friend, Alex, who spent a large part of his youth in the U.S., believes that Manifest Destiny should extend to language too. We respectfully reject that assertion, along with the corruption that Noah Webster imposed on written English.

Cathie: Yes, Canadian spelling is really a thing. We use the British spelling for certain words like neighbourhood and centre. But…does that mean it is colonial spelling? Oh, gosh. 

At least, it’s not American spelling, which really is a made-up thing, intended solely to muddy the waters and make people confused. Oh, or maybe to differentiate themselves from those colonizing Brits. 

But really, how hard is it to remember to put an extra “u” in all of those special words?

Michelle: I always thought that the Canadian spelling of “centre,” for example, reflected our French roots as well. Canadian spelling shows respect to our British parentage, but is also swayed by our rebellious older American cousin…even to the extent that some Canadians choose American spelling for words like realize…or is it realise? In fact both are fine and acceptable. This mixing is the confusing part, we should just choose. Does it indicate an unwillingness to admit that there might be a better way? Or is our reluctance to side with either British or American spelling rules a sign of stubborn optimism? The mixing of different kinds of spelling does allow for more than one way to express our thoughts and ideas, and maybe that’s a good thing… 

When I think about it, a lot of English spelling makes no sense to begin with! (You realize this when trying to explain silent letters to an eight-year-old. )

Keely: “Canadian spelling” is certainly an interesting part of our history as a country. Although I believe in decolonizing language, I haven’t truthfully considered what these conventions mean to me. Partly because “Canadian spelling” is habit, and fairly universal here. Oddly enough, it is convention in Canada to use the American “ze” instead of the British “se,” despite the many instances of British spelling. I would argue that “Canadian spelling” is a thing based mainly on our shared lack of consistency! 

Elisia: An interesting line of thought! Canadian spelling tends to harken back toward its European roots, but does sometimes take from American influence. The Canadian copyeditor, I think, is then faced with the question: Who is the reader for this document? If the audience is Canadian and used to seeing colour written with a “u”, then the copyeditor had better “Find and Replace” that spelling. But if the document has a consistent American spelling and the audience is an American one, then perhaps the Canadian copyeditor is better off spending time on other things — such as checking if the copywriting budget has room for changing the consistent American spelling throughout.

Alex: I should probably begin by clarifying that my comment was in jest. Having said that, the sentiment behind my little diss at Canadian spelling conventions was one of honest confusion at a paradox I have been trying to make sense of ever since I moved to Canada–namely, that even though Canadians largely speak American, you all occasionally write in British. After three years of extensive research, however, I have managed to formulate two working hypotheses as to why this might be. The first is that the Canadian choice to spell words like “colour,”, “valour,” and “understorey” is but an elaborate ploy to cheat at Scrabble. The second is that, as my colleagues have hinted at, Canadian spelling is in line with Canada as a nation caught between its North American geography and its unsevered familial ties to the British Commonwealth. If the US and Britain are two countries separated by a common language, as the old line goes, then Canadian spelling is sort of like a diplomatic bridge between the two. In any case, I am thankful for having colleagues who understand and put up with my divergence from these northerly norms. 

Can we at least all agree on using the serial, or Oxford, comma?
Wait, where is everyone going?