Lately, I have been reading various news articles on Yahoo! that have sported extra “u's” as well as “s's” instead of “z's”. I realized (or, perhaps, realised) that we are precariously perched on the edge of a global crisis.
On the shelf in my shower sits a hair conditioner that promises “Vibrant Colour.” It was purchased on a recent business trip to Miami. The patent is registered in the US, and the manufacturer is headquartered in the Chicago area and apparently has offices in suburban London as well as Toronto.
How did the company decide on the spelling of color/colour? Wouldn't prudent marketers come up with a different word altogether, just to avoid controversy? Or did they sit around a conference table for hours deliberating on which spelling to use? Were they trying to go for some Eurocentric sophistication? Or was it an oversight?
Perhaps it was a mis-shipment, an overstock or a product intended only to be dumped below the 49th parallel. Would anyone but a writer purchasing the product even care or notice?
Today, communication can travel across the globe in a nanosecond. More and more, we are all turning to the same news sources, whether we reside in Johannesburg or Dubuque. We may participate on a global knowledge exchange on the Web in the afternoon and then attend a child's football match/soccer game in the evening.
In that world, which is the proper written English: that of the Queen or that of her most loutish of offspring, America?
Global domination by a product, a free market system or even a language is seen by many as brilliant. English is the preferred language of world business and even (to the dismay of the French) the preferred language for conducting politics in the EU.
Christopher Patton, the last Governor of Hong Kong and a recent contender for the European Commission Presidency, said that the United States “is currently the only superpower in the world.”
However nice a compliment that is, one must ask the question: Is it absolutely necessary that the US exert its will in everything? When it comes to spelling, might the US simply acquiesce?
Americans need not adopt German, French or Cantonese, but rather alter the way a handful of words are spelled (or, perhaps, spelt). It is, after all, the English language, not the American one.
Speaking of world domination, Microsoft has made it rather easy for Americans to adapt. A simple scroll down the Tools menu… and typing can instantly be performed, or at least corrected, in the mother tongue.
More countries in the world use the English spellings than the spelling choices that America utilizes (or utilises). It may seem like a minor detail to many, but a minor detail with global implications nonetheless.
- Should advertisements be localized, or should they be localised?
- Should a TV program—or programme—aim not offend or confuse?
- Before the Web came on to the scene, was there truly a need to globalize (or globalise) information and advertising?
- Will news and ads (or adverts) ever again stay in their proper geographic dominion outside of someone importing them elsewhere (or elsewheres)?
The need to streamline the language is an idea at the tipping point.
The American school system could teach both forms of spelling for only the next five years or so, and then switch over completely. After a generation or two, the changeover would be complete. The old-fashioned American way would quickly become merely novel.
I implore, however, that America do better a job than was tried with the metric system switch in the 1970s. Although that task may have been lacking, many Americans between the ages of 35 and 45 do know how many feet are in a kilometer due to the efforts of the Public Broadcasting System and its well-intentioned television program (or programme) Metric-Man.
The only remnants of that failed legacy are thousands of signs sprinkled across the US, announcing the number of kilometers (along with miles) to an impending destination, along with an equal amount of Americans who actually know how long a kilometer actually is.
Americans have such a novel fascination with all things British anyway—whether the monarchy or a belief that the education system “over there” is just better. The US seems to buy it on virtue alone. I think it would be an easy sell.
If you don't believe this author, check Amazon's best-seller list (or that of The New York Times). One of the current best selling nonfiction books in the US is Eats, Shoots & Leaves by British editor-cum-author Lynne Truss. A humorous (or, rather, humourous) book on—of all subjects—proper English punctuation.
I say, let's finally all adapt to English spellings. It can do nothing but realise more colour in the written language.
(My apologies to my fellows at The American Language Institute at my alma mater, USC.)