The Eternal Struggle Against My Own Native Language

December 3rd, 2006

Something that is mildly annoying for someone like me, who enjoys writing so much, is that my English spelling is hopelessly muddled.

I don’t mean that I’m a bad speller. Far from it. But when I was born, my parents were living in the UK. Back then (1974), books in the UK were much, much, much cheaper than they were in the US. My parents took advantage of this and bought a huge mess of books.

As a result, as a kid, I was surrounded by British books. Sure, I may have been hearing Texan English every day around me, but when it came to looking at words on a page, pretty much everything I saw was written in British English.

As such, I grew up feeling far more comfortable with “colour” and “theatre” than “color” or “theater”. And I still do. However, for whatever reason, my mind didn’t take so well to spellings like “connexion” or “gaol”.

So, pretty much my whole life, I’ve had this annoying tension when I write, between writing the way I’d like:

“Bob looked at his reflection in the small mirror of his jail cell, the grey colour of his face almost indistinguishable from the grey colour of the walls around him”

The American way:

“Bob looked at his reflection in the small mirror of his jail cell, the gray color of his face almost indistinguishable from the gray color of the walls around him”

And the British way

“Bob looked at his reflexion in the small mirror of his gaol cell, the grey colour of his face almost indistinguishable from the grey colour of the walls around him”

I sway between standardizing myself one way or the other, and saying “Why should I care if it’s borked? I’ll just write it the way I want.”

It would be nice if I came to some sort of peace regarding this soon, but I doubt I will. After all, it’s only been two and a half decades.

4 Responses to “The Eternal Struggle Against My Own Native Language”

  1. peacay Says:

    FWIW, I would write that sentence the same way you have.

    My lexicon is being perverted by the internet (well, Mefi actually) to the point where I don’t remember sometimes what is the proper (British with occasional Aussie variations) spelling anymore. I don’t particularly mind and in fact I have this belief that rather than one style or country overriding, that wider variation will become the acceptable norm (as it is in most dictionaries these days). ‘S’ and ‘Z’ throw me – in suffixes. Chastising or chastizing? Problem is, there are a small bunch of english words where ‘Z’ is correct. But as long as people understand and don’t regard you as a philistine, it’s all goodly.

  2. bugbread Says:

    Well, I finally gave in to my base instincts and changed my spell checker from “English / United States” to “English / United Kingdom”, which, it turns out…spells exactly like I do! That is, if I type “color”, it will correct it to “colour”, but if I write “jail” instead of “gaol”, or “connection” instead of “connexion”, it leaves it alone.

    Which just makes me think that perhaps my spelling really is just British spelling, but the standard British spelling of 2006, not that of the books I was reading in 1980.

    Totally tangentially (and not really deserving of a post in itself), my parents gave my son a toy for Christmas, that teaches the alphabet in Spanish. And, lo and behold, it turns out that the alphabet itself has changed in Spanish between when I was a child, and now. The current Spanish alphabet has 27 letters: the 26 of English, plus the ñ. When I was a kid, there were three additional letters: the “ch”, the “ll”, and the “rr”.

    Which is pretty cool, because those were always the three that screwed me up when looking up a word in a dictionary. It’s tough to remember that the word “chaval” doesn’t appear between “cerebro” and “cinco” in the dictionary, but in fact after “czar”. And now, thanks to the world joining together to “spell like bugbread”, I no longer have to remember that, because now it appears right where I always expected it to.

  3. peacay Says:

    I had to check – I added the Brit dictionary Ffox plugin. I usually hate spellcheckers but this one is actually relatively unobtrusive and an assistance.

    And that’s really odd about the spanish. Imagine sleeping for a year and finding out that the letters k, q and z had been abolished. Heh.

  4. David Says:

    I am sure you read Mashiko Fujiwara’s “Dignity of a nation.” If so you would know that the reasons that no Americans can spell is because they take typing in school and never spelling. Most likely because unlike Japan, America does not have 4 seasons.

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