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!"#$%"&'%(&#)*+ -.(/#0.%1/&2%" 3/%""4)045 3/##+&)0 6#7 (# 814"" 9)0"&+/

by }ames B. Wells (CERN, ueneva)

:$+(.%2(5 ulobalization has cieateu situations wheie collaboiatois acioss many
countiies wiite aiticles togethei. In this essay I suggest how to ueciue on spelling
convention, anu then ieview some funuamentals foi the Ameiican anu Biitish
conventions. The most challenging suggestion pioposeu to auheients of the
Biitish conventions is that, when given a choice, one shoulu always use
acceptable Biitish vaiiants that most closely match the Ameiican convention. Foi
example, use '-ize' iathei than '-ise' to enu woius such as 'oiganize'. The most
challenging suggestion pioposeu to auheients of the Ameiican spelling
convention is that they shoulu be much moie willing to leain anu use the Biitish
convention in global contexts.

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Beciuing how to spell
Befining the spelling conventions
Choices foi global English among the accepteu vaiiants
Examples of Ameiican-Biitish spelling uiffeiences


In a simple woilu an Ameiican scientist baseu in Ameiica wiites an aiticle foi an
Ameiican jouinal, using Ameiican English conventions. This is not oui woilu.
Ameiicans aie abioau. Collaboiatois aie mixeu among all nationalities.
Institutions aie tiansnational. English language publisheis aie global, anu many
aie baseu even in non-English speaking lanus.

The question of which spelling convention to use faces many when woiking in
the inteinational context. Although most inteinational oiganizations euit foi
Biitish spelling, theie aie many cases of ambiguity. These situations incluue a
Biit piepaiing a talk foi an Ameiican auuience anu vice veisa; a Peiuvian
woiking with a ueiman to wiite a papei foi a Polish jouinal; oi, an Ameiican
woiking with a Biit to publish in a Butch jouinal that has no piesciibeu style
guiue foi usage oi spelling. Theie aie innumeiable peimutations of such

Nany Ameiicans woulu say to just spell woius like Ameiicans uo! Aftei all they
have moie people, bombs, anu money than the 0K. Fuitheimoie, theie is
pieceuence foi the colonists oveitaking the colonizeis in uictating the new
stanuaiu iules of language. A famous iecent example is the "compiomise" on
Poituguese spelling foigeu by the Poituguese anu the Biazilians anu the othei
Poituguese speaking nations of the woilu. Basically, the Biazilians got theii way
on almost eveiything anu pusheu aiounu theii foimei colonial oveiloius anu the
othei smallei countiies (Cabial 2u1u). Why shoulun't the Ameiicans uo the

Theie aie two goou ieasons why it is awkwaiu to foice Ameiican English
conventions on the iest of the woilu. Fiist, Biitain publishes moie books pei
capita than any othei countiy in the woilu by a laige maigin. Total book
publishing is usually laigei in the 0niteu States each yeai, but Biitain is not fai
behinu, anu uuiing some yeais even outpublishes the 0niteu States in total
numbei (uolufaib 2uu6). Theie is no cleai uominance of Ameiican publishing
ovei even just Biitain.

The seconu ieason to not tiy to thiust Ameiican English on the woilu is that its
conventions aie auheieu to by a fai fewei fiaction of English speakeis than
Biitish English conventions. I am speaking somewhat loosely, because no
countiy outsiue of 0niteu States anu Biitain piecisely auheies to Ameiican oi
Biitish conventions, but the vast majoiity aie much closei to the conventions of
Biitish English. Canaua anu Austialia aie two obvious cases that lean stiongly
Biitish, given theii amicable anu moie iecent bieak fiom the empiie. 0ne must
also incluue the billion people in Inuia, who have theii own unique anu
inteiesting style, but whose conventions aie ueciueuly moie Biitish.

Fuitheimoie, most of English speaking Afiica siues with the Biits, anu it is
giowing fast. Nigeiia's top newspapei, Punch (Punch 2u1S), employs Biitish
spellings as uo most othei souices in Nigeiia. Nigeiia is piesently about 1Su
million people, which is about half the size of the 0niteu States. By 21uu its
population shoulu exceeu 7uu million, wheieas the 0niteu States is piojecteu to
giow to less than Suu million. Even Tanzania, which is English speaking (anu
Swahili speaking) anu cuiiently has less than Su million, will giow to gieatei
than Suu millon by 21uu (Population 2u11).

Theie is a iapiu explosion of non-Ameiican English speakeis in the woilu,
putting Ameiicans anu theii conventions incieasingly in the minoiity. Even theii
economic might is not piopelling them to the majoiity of English language
publishing. In this incieasingly global woilu, Ameiicans must aujust.

In this aiticle I piesent suggestions foi how to come to a uecision on how to spell
English woius, anu a shoit guiue to the uiffeiences between the two main
conventions (Ameiican anu Biitish English) foi ieaueis who aie not familiai
with them. Some of the Ameiican conventions anu theii alloweu vaiiants might
be suipiising foi even Ameiican ieaueis, anu likewise foi the Biitish
conventions foi Biits.

@42&>&)0 /#7 (# +14""

The fiist suggestion in ueciuing how to spell is to make a conscious uecision to
ueciue. Nany aiticles in the physics liteiatuie have clashing styles. This is
uistiacting, anu ieaueis may tiy to attach Biitish spelling sections to some
authois anu Ameiican spelling authois to otheis. This is an unlikely goal of the
authois. Fuitheimoie, seiious caie in language usage gives confiuence in the
ieauei that the authoi has given seiious caie to the subject anu wants to uo his
best to cleaily impait his message. Spelling is an obvious inuicatoi of this caie.
This has yet again been emphasizeu iecently in the populai meuia with }essica
Lahey pioclaiming in !"# %&'()&*+, "Yes. Spelling counts" (Lahey 2u1S).

The seconu suggestion is that publisheis anu auuience aie piimaiy. If youi
publishei oi auuience has iequiiements (e.g., Ameiican spelling foi Physical
Review) oi even stiong expectations (e.g., Biitish spelling foi unpublisheu woik
intenueu foi Euiopean auvisoiy gioup) you shoulu follow it, uespite how
awkwaiu it might feel at fiist. Nost often this iule is obvious anu is not
unnoticeu. 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess geneially is not going to be happy with
Ameiican spelling, noi is Chicago 0niveisity Piess with Biitish spelling

Sometimes auuience expectations can be subtle. Stephen Bawking's sliues foi a
public talk in Bes Noines shoulu piobably be in Biitish English, as the auuience
will enjoy the exoticism of the whole expeiience even moie. 0n the othei hanu,
an ex-pat fiom Biistol wiiting a lettei to the euitoi of the Bes Noines Registei
about unfaii local watei iestiictions shoulu uo it in Ameiican English spelling.

As a thiiu suggestion, if the publishei oi auuience expectations uo not iesolve
the issue, then the uecision shoulu iest completely on authoi piefeiences. If
univeisal agieement can be achieveu then it is set.

So fai these these suggestions aie mostly intuitive anu not contioveisial.
Bowevei, if aftei all the consiueiations of the fiist thiee suggestions theie is still
no iesolution foi the convention, then my fouith suggestion comes in play anu is
peihaps moie contioveisial: When in uoubt use Biitish English conventions, anu
in paiticulai those of 0xfoiu English Bictionaiy (0EB 2uu9). Theie is simply no
othei souice moie iecognizeu, of highei appiobation, anu moie aligneu with the
majoiity of English speakeis in the woilu than the 0EB.

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In this section I woulu like to uiscuss what I consiuei to be the most compelling
conventions foi Ameiican English usage anu foi Biitish English usage, the two
most useu stanuaius in the woilu. 0f couise, if the ciicumstances iequiie the
wiitei to auheie to anothei convention, those shoulu be useu anu the
appiopiiate style guiues followeu. Foi example, Canauian publications may wish
theii wiiteis to follow spelling conventions of the ,-./01 2()(1*() 3)4'*5"
6*+&*/)(07 (Baibei 2uuS). 0i Austialians may iequiie following 8(+9:(0*#
6*+&*/)(07 conventions (Belbiiuge 2uuS).

Neveitheless, theie aie many peimutations of what publisheis allow. 67)(;*+5
/. &"# <&()1(01 8/1#' (Bonoghue et al. 1994) publisheu by Cambiiuge 0niveisity
Piess is wiitten by Ameiican-baseu authois using Ameiican English spelling
convention. =(:4# >*#'1 !"#/0*#5 (Pokoiski 199u) publisheu by Cambiiuge
0niveisity Piess is wiitten by a Polanu-baseu authoi using Biitish spelling
convention. =(:4# !"#/07 /. 3'#;#)&(07 ?(0&*+'# ?"75*+5 (Cheng anu Li 1988)
publisheu by 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess is wiitten by Ameiican-baseu authois
using Biitish spelling conventions. Each employs a consistent convention.
@#A5&#0B !"# %;#0*+() 5C#''*)4 +/)D#)&*/)

Ameiican usage convention has many potential souices. !"# E#F G/0H !*;#5
8():(' /. <&7'# (NY Time 2uu2), 2"*+(4/ 8():#' /. <&7'# (Chicago 2u1u), 8I%
<&7'# 8():(' (NLA 2uu8), etc. anu numeious othei oiganizations publish theii
own style guiues, which often incluue uictating that spelling be "Ameiican". They
will sometimes pioviue some spelling examples that otheiwise coulu be
confusing. Theie is even a wonueiful little book, often iefeiieu to as Stiunk &
White (Stiunk et al. 1999), which has been a favoiite of Ameiicans foi seveial
geneiations now. Bowevei, that book is by no means piesciiptive anu exhaustive
on spelling conventions.

With the goal of choosing a convention that is both Ameiican anu complete, theie
is no bettei choice than Webstei's uictionaiy (Webstei 2uu2). Foi geneiations
almost eveiy Ameiican college stuuent hau Webstei's Collegiate Bictionaiy
(Collegiate 2uu8) on his oi hei shelf, which was the final say in all woiu
uefinitions anu spellings. The usage guiue is also an oveiall stanuaiu in Ameiican
language (N-W 0sage 1994), although the moie pithy Stiunk & White was
piobably ieau moie.

Bencefoith we will call the Ameiican stanuaiu "Webstei". Piactically speaking, if
one wants to check the spelling in this convention he oi she neeu only consult
the woiu on http:meiiiam-webstei.com. Woius that have uiffeient spelling
conventions aie noteu in the online uictionaiy. In the Webstei convention all
vaiiants that aie labeleu "Biit." oi "Chiefly Biit." shoulu be escheweu.

,-./01B !"# J0*&*5" 5C#''*)4 +/)D#)&*/)

As foi the Biitish spelling convention, theie is no othei souice moie iecognizeu
foi Biitish English than the 0xfoiu English Bictionaiy (0EB 2uu9). It is still the
highest achievement among uictionaiies of any language in the woilu touay. Its
influence is unpaialleleu. It is the obvious choice. Foi this ieason I will call the
Biitish English spelling convention "0xfoiu".

We shoulu iemaik that theie aie many Biits who aie taken by the insight of
Fowlei's 6*+&*/)(07 /. 8/1#0) 3)4'*5" K5(4# (196S). The fiist anu seconu
euitions weie poweiful books that helu gieat sway ovei Biitish wiiteis. Nuch of
it ieflecteu 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess's conventions, anu some conventions weie
latei influenceu by Fowlei's entiies. The moie iecent Siu euition, upuateu by
Buichfielu (2uu4), was wiuely panneu by scholais (Simon 1997), causing its
influence to uiminish. I woulu just like to emphasize that whatevei may oi may
not be saiu in the Fowlei euitions, the souice to look to is the 0EB.

Bencefoith we will call this specific Biitish spelling convention "0xfoiu".
Piactically speaking, if one wants to check the spelling in this convention he oi
she neeu only consult the woiu at http:oxfoiuuictionaiies.com. Woius that
have uiffeient spelling conventions aie noteu appiopiiately. The woiu in
question is always fileu unuei its piimaiy spelling, with the seconuaiy
alteinative given in paienthesis. Foi example, 'oiganize' is uefineu unuei its
piimaiy spelling 'oiganize', anu the seconuaiy spelling is given in paientheses
just below it as '(also oiganise)'. An unacceptable Ameiican alteinative foi
Biitish wiiteis is piefaceu by '0S'. Foi example unuei the uefinition of 'analyse'
one finus '(0S analyze)'.

3/#&24+ <#. 0"#$%" 9)0"&+/ %B#)0 (/4 %2241(4> A%.&%)(+

Whethei one chooses the Webstei convention oi the 0xfoiu convention, theie
aie still some choices to be maue. Foi example, in each convention theie aie
woius that allow alteinative spellings. I think it is a goou iuea geneially to
choose the spelling convention that oveilaps with the othei convention.

Foi example, Ameiicans shoulu spell 'catalogue', since it is wiuely useu anu
matches the Biitish stanuaiu. Likewise Biits shoulu wiite 'iealize' anu 'oiganize'
since it not only oveilaps with the Webstei convention but it is aiguably the
moie acceptable way of wiiting it in Biitish English, the '-ise' enuings of such
woius being an unfoitunate iecent mutation. See the compelling uiscussion in
Folwei (Fowlei 196S) on this topic.

9C%B1"4+ #< :B4.&2%)DE.&(&+/ +14""&)0 >&<<4.4)24+

Let us now enu with a iepiesentative listing of spelling uiffeiences between
Ameiican anu Biitish English among some common woius. Some entiies have a
iefeience lettei in paienthesis that inuicates that an enunote to the listing has
fuithei claiifying uiscussion. Some of the woius aie uiffeient (aluminum vs.
aluminium) which coulu be chalkeu up to vocabulaiy uiffeiences iathei than
spelling uiffeiences, such as tiuck vs. loiiy, elevatoi vs. lift, etc. Bowevei, when
the spelling is veiy close anu it is a small vaiiant, it is eligible to be incluueu as an
example heie. This comment also applies to the uiffeient foims of the past tense
foi some veibs (e.g., buineu vs. buint).

The entiy befoie in the listing below is the spelling fiom Neiiiam-Webstei
(Webstei convention), which is the piimaiy Ameiican souice. A seconu spelling
inuicates an acceptable vaiiant. The entiy aftei is spelling fiom 0xfoiu English
Bictionaiy (0xfoiu convention), which is the piimaiy Biitish spelling souice. A
seconu spelling inuicates an acceptable vaiiant. The examples shoulu be enough
to get an accuiate feel foi the spelling uiffeiences to be applieu to many othei
woius not listeu. When in uoubt, of couise, the wiitei shoulu consult the

%;#0*+() 3)4'*5" L@#A5&#0M N J0*&*5" 3)4'*5" L,-./01M

aiiplane aeioplane (but aiipoit aiipoit)
aluminum aluminium
analogue, analog analogue
analyze analyse (a)
apologize apologize, apologise (a)
canceleu cancelleu (c)
catalize catalyse (a)
catalog, catologue catalogue
centei centie
coloi coloui
coauthoi co-authoi (b)
co-ownei co-ownei (b)
co-paient co-paient (b)
copaitnei co-paitnei (b)
coopeiate coopeiate, co-opeiate (b)
uefense uefence
uialogue, uialog uialogue
estiogen oestiogen
fetus foetus
fibei fibie
flavoi flavoui
fueleu fuelleu (c)
feuling fuelling (c)
globalization globalization, globalisation (a)
humoi humoui
laboi laboui
leaineu leaineu, leaint (e)
leukemia leukaemia
license licence
litei litie
maneuvei manoeuvie
naive, nave naive, nave
neighboi neighboui
offense offence
oiganize oiganize, oiganise (a)
oiganization oiganization, oiganisation (a)
paialyze paialyse (a)
peuiatiic paeuiatiic
pietense pietence
piogiam piogiamme, piogiam (computei couing) (u)
iealize iealize, iealise (a)
iecognize iecognize, iecognise (a)
ieelect ie-elect
ieelection ie-election
iesouice iesouice
iole, ile iole, ile
spelleu spelleu, spelt
theatei, theatie theatie
tiaveleu tiavelleu (c)
tiavelei tiavellei (c)
tiaveling tiavelling (c)
Web site, website website
while while, whilst (f)

(a) O*P# D5Q O*5# ()1 O7P# D5Q O75# L/0 0(&"#0 O'7P# D5Q O'75#M
This is one of the thoiniest uiffeiences between Ameiican spelling convention
anu Biitish spelling convention. Nany Biits uo not appieciate that woius such as
oiganize anu iealize have a longei histoiy with the -ize spelling anu a moie
sounu etymology. Nany Ameiicans uo not iealize that woius such as paialyze
anu analyze have a longei histoiy with the -yse spelling anu a moie sounu
etymology. The 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess still piefeis -ize enuings foi the
appiopiiate woius, as uo many othei piominent English souices. A helpful iule
to iemembei is that if the stem can be completeu also by -ism (oiganism), oi -
ization (oiganization), oi by -y (agony), the -ize enuing is the coiiect foim.

All woius in Ameiican English enuing in -yze geneially follow fiom a uiffeient
uieek oiigin than woius enuing in -ize, anu aie univeisally ienueieu by -yse in
Biitish English with no exceptions: paialyzepaialyse anu catalyzecatalyse aie
two examples. The helpful iule to iemembei heie is that these woius ieally have
the suffix -lyse, which is a uistinctly uiffeient uieek etymology fiom the -ize
suffix. Thus, you can be suie that if the woiu enus in -lyze in Ameiican English it
must enu in -lyse in Biitish English. Anothei helpful ieminuei is that if the stem
can be combineu with -lysis to make a noun, the veib foim -lyse is the only
Biitish option. Ameiican convention uictates that analyze becomes analysis,
which is awkwaiu etymologically, but neveitheless the convention.

LAM +/(:&"/0 D5Q +/O(:&"/0R 0##'#+& D5Q 0#O#'#+&R #&+Q
Ameiicans geneially uo not like the hyphen in such woius. Bowevei, when it is
extiemely awkwaiu not to, they uo use it. This occuis when co- piefixes a woiu
that staits with an o. Foi example, co-ownei is the iequiieu Ameiican
convention. But coauthoi, couepenuent, copaient, etc. have no hyphen. I know of
only thiee common exceptions to this iule in Ameiican English spelling: co-
bianu, co-euition, co-paient. Biitish English convention is much easiei. When the
co- piefix means with, the hyphen is always useu to join it with a stem.
Coopeiate is one common exception, wheie Biitish English uoes not allow a

In woius beginning with ie-, Ameiicans uo not have a hyphen, wheieas Biits
geneially uo. With iegaiu to ie- anu also co- piefixes, Ameiican conventions
utilize the uiaeiesis umlaut to sepaiate the syllables of two aujoining vowels:
coopeiate anu ielect aie two examples. This convention is useu famously by
The New Yoikei magazine. Bowevei, as a iule, Webstei's Ameiican convention
uoes not allow it. A well-known exception is nave, which is an accepteu vaiiant
of naive in both Ameiican anu Biitish English conventions.

L+M &0(D#'#1 D5Q &0(D#''#1
Foi veibs that enu in -el, such as cancel, tiavel, label, the paiticiples anu nouns
aie foimeu by keeping a single l in Ameiican English but uoubling the l in Biitish
English: tiaveleutiavelleu, tiavelingtiavelling, tiaveleitiavellei.

L1M C0/40(; D5Q C0/40(;;#
Theie aie seveial meanings of the woiu piogiam. Foi all meanings the Ameiican
convention is to spell it piogiam. If the meaning is a set of instiuctions that a
computei oi machine caiiies out, an accepteu vaiiant in Biitish English is
piogiam. It is wiuely useu that way, anu auvisable since it auus claiity to
language without inventing something people aie not able to immeuiately
iecognize anu unueistanu. Ameiicans shoulu use these two spellings as well, but
alas that is not the convention. Foi othei meanings of the woiu, it is obligatoiy in
Biitish English to spell piogiamme (e.g., exeicise piogiamme).

L#M 5C#''#1 D5Q 5C#'&
The simple past tense anu past paiticiple of some veibs aie iegulai in Ameiican
English but can be iiiegulai in Biitish English, anu vice veisa. ueneially
speaking, when the Ameiican veib has a iegulai foim anu the Biitish foim has an
iiiegulai foim, the iegulai foim is acceptable in Biitish English. Bowevei,
Ameiican iiiegulai foims geneially must stay iiiegulai, even if the Biitish foims
aie iegulai. These shoulu be memoiizeu, anu is one of the haiuest tasks of a non-
native English speakei to mastei. A iathei exhaustive list of these anomalies aie
given below (Iiiegulai 2u1S).

*).*)*&*D#B %;#0*+() C(5&R C(5& C(0&*+*C'# N J0*&*5" C(5&R C(5& C(0&*+*C'#
buin: buineu, buineu buint, buint
bust: bust, bust busteu, busteu
uive: uove, uiveu uiveu, uiveu
uieam: uieameu, uieameu uieamt, uieamt
got: got, gotten got, got
kneel: kneeleu, kneeleu knelt, knelt
lean: leaneu, leaneu leant, leant
leap: leapeu, leapeu leapt, leapt
leain: leaineu, leaineu leaint, leaint
pleau: pleu, pleu pleaueu, pleaueu
saw: saweu, saweu saweu, sawn
smell: smelleu, smelleu smelt, smelt
spell: spelleu, spelleu spelt, spelt
spill: spilleu, spilleu spilt, spilt
spoil: spoileu, spoileu spoilt, spoilt

L.M F"*'# D5Q F"*'5&
In Biitish English whilst is useu by some when it is being employeu as a
conjunction oi auveib. This is moie common to see in wiiting than in speech.
Since while is moie common in Biitish English than whilst, anu since it is
common anu accepteu Biitish usage, it is iecommenueu to use this foim.


In conclusion, my main messages aie
Consciously ueciue on the spelling convention anu uo not mix anu mash
among conventions.
Choose convention by auuience expectations, with all the obviousness oi
subtlety that might imply.
When in uoubt choose Biitish conventions.
Ameiican convention shoulu be Webstei's (Webstei 2uu2) unless
otheiwise uictateu.
Biitish convention shoulu be 0EB (0EB 2uu9) unless otheiwise uictateu.
Choose accepteu spelling vaiiants with a global, unifying outlook, such as
'oiganize', 'catalogue', etc.

0f couise it goes without saying that content is moie impoitant than issues like
spelling, but a consistent appioach to usage conventions will be less uistiacting
to the ieauei, enabling moie concentiation on the content. Wiiting with
consistent convention tailoieu to the auuience incieases the ieauability anu
quality of the wiitten woik, anu it incieases the tiust ieaueis will have in the
authois' caiefulness, both in theii piecision of language anu in the substance of
theii woik.

F#.G+ 3&(4>

Buichfielu, R. W. 2uu4. >/F'#0S5 8/1#0) 3)4'*5" K5(4#. 0xfoiu: 0xfoiu 0niveisity

Cabial, Thomas. 2u1u. Spelling iefoim causes Poituguese heauaches. !"#
!#'#40(C". 1 Naich 2u1u. http:is.guShiwkF

Baibei, Katheiine, eu. 2uuS. 2()(1*() ,-./01 6*+&*/)(07. 0xfoiu: 0xfoiu
0niveisity Piess, 2nu euition.

Cheng, Ta-Pei anu Ling-Fong Li. 1988. =(:4# !"#/07 /. 3'#;#)&(07 ?(0&*+'#
?"75*+5. 0xfoiu: 0xfoiu 0niveisity Piess.

Chicago. 2u1u. !"# 2"*+(4/ 8():('# /. <&7'#, 16th eu. Chicago: Chicago 0niveisity

Collegiate. 2uu8. 8#00*(;O@#A5&#0S5 2/''#4*(&# 6*+&*/)(07R 11th eu. New Yoik:
Neiiiam-Webstei. http:www.meiiiam-webstei.com

Belbiiuge, Aithui. 2uuS. 8(+9:(0*# 6*+&*/)(07, 4th eu. Syuney: Nacmillan
Palgiave Publisheis. http:www.macquaiieuictionaiy.com.au

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