As a Brit, I often see my co-patriots get annoyed when they see American English spellings of words. Over time I’ve accepted that this is a ‘thing’ that we Brits do, and something that used to wind me up in particular. But why?
Firstly, a bit of background. We can trace the history of so-called American English back to a Mr Noah Webster who, in 1828, published ‘An American Dictionary of the English Language‘. Webster believed that English spellings were, in some cases, unnecessarily complex, and so he simplified them. Words like ‘colour’ became ‘color’; ‘programme’ became ‘program’ and ‘jewellery’ became ‘jewelry’, for example. Webster’s legacy is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which is to American English as the Oxford English Dictionary is to British English.
I suppose Brits could argue that British English is therefore the ‘real’ language and that American English is just a simplified derivation of it. This may be amplified by animosity over the fact that the US is now a bigger and more powerful than the UK despite it being a British colony until 1776.
However, I think computers shoulder a lot of the blame for this animosity – certainly in recent years, anyway. And I’m going to call out Microsoft in particular. You see, even though us Brits have our own spellings for words, software localised for British English is rare. It tends to be open source software, where an enterprising British coder has localised it, hence British English is more often available as an option in Linux and in web browsers like Firefox.
But on Windows, American English was our only option. The only concession was that programs (interestingly computer programs in Britain use the American English spelling) like Microsoft Word did at least come with a British English spelling dictionary. But we would have to ‘center’ align text, or change its ‘color’. Or ‘italicize’ it.
I don’t really blame Microsoft for not localising Windows to the UK market. After all, I’m sure that American English is, on the whole, about 99% the same as British English. Where it differs, the words are only spelt slightly differently and the average Brit would still understand them. It just isn’t worth the effort. Plus, Microsoft would probably have to develop Canadian, South African and Australian versions too, each with their own minor differences in spelling and dialect.
Whilst as a Brit, I instinctively use British English spellings, I won’t get into an argument about whether American English is right or wrong. American English is correct in America, and British English is correct in Britain. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?