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VII Differences in Spelling
 § 1 Typical Forms —Some of the salient differences between American and English spelling are shown in the following list of common words:
American English
Anemia anaemia
aneurism aneurysm
annex (noun) annexe
arbor arbour
armor armour
asphalt asphalte
ataxia ataxy
ax axe
balk (verb) baulk
baritone barytone
bark (ship) barque
behavior behaviour
behoove behove
buncombe bunkum
burden (ship's) burthen
cachexia cachexy
caliber calibre
candor candour
center centre
check (bank) cheque
checkered chequered
cider cyder
clamor clamour
clangor clangour
cloture closure[1]
color colour
connection connexion
councilor councillor
counselor counsellor
cozy cosy
curb kerb
cyclopedia cyclopaedia
defense defence
demeanor demeanour
diarrhea diarrhoea
draft (ship's) draught
dreadnaught dreadnought
dryly drily
ecology oecology
ecumenical oecumenical
edema oedema
encyclopedia encyclopaedia
endeavor endeavour
eon aeon
epaulet epaulette
esophagus oesophagus
fagot faggot
favor favour
favorite favourite
fervor fervour
flavor flavour
font (printer's) fount
foregather forgather
forego forgo
form (printer's) forme
fuse fuze
gantlet (to run the—) gauntlet
glamor glamour
good-by good-bye
gram gramme
gray grey
harbor harbour
honor honour
hostler ostler
humor humour
inclose enclose
indorse endorse
inflection inflexion
inquiry enquiry
jail gaol
jewelry jewellery
jimmy (burglar's) jemmy
labor labour
laborer labourer
liter litre
maneuver manoeuvre
medieval mediaeval
meter metre
misdemeanor misdemeanour
mold mould
mollusk mollusc
molt moult
mustache moustache
neighbor neighbour
neighborhood neighbourhood
net (adj.) nett
odor odour
offense offence
pajamas pyjamas
parlor parlour
peas (plu. of pea) pease
picket (military) piquet
plow plough
pretense pretence
program programme
pudgy podgy
pygmy pigmy
rancor rancour
rigor rigour
rumor rumour
savory savoury
scimitar scimetar
septicemia septicaemia
show (verb) shew
siphon syphon
siren syren
skeptic sceptic
slug (verb) slog
slush slosh
splendor splendour
stanch staunch
story (of a house) storey
succor succour
taffy toffy
tire (noun) tyre
toilet toilette
traveler traveller
tumor tumour
valor valour
vapor vapour
veranda verandah
vial phial
vigor vigour
vise (a tool) vice
wagon waggon
woolen woollen
§ 2
General Tendencies—This list is by no means exhaustive. According to a recent writer upon the subject, "there are 812 words in which the prevailing American spelling differs from the English."[2] But enough examples are given to reveal a number of definite tendencies. American, in general, moves toward simplified forms of spelling more rapidly than English, and has got much further along the road. Redundant and unnecessary letters have been dropped from whole groups of words—the u from the group of nouns in -our, with the sole exception of Saviour, and from such words as mould and baulk; the e from annexe, asphalte, axe, forme, pease, storey, etc.; the duplicate consonant from waggon, nett, faggot, woollen, jeweller, councillor, etc., and the silent foreign suffixes from toilette, epaulette, programme, verandah, etc. In addition, simple vowels have been substituted for degenerated diphthongs in such words as anaemia, [Pg246] oesophagus, diarrhoea and mediaeval, most of them from the Greek.
Further attempts in the same direction are to be seen in the substitution of simple consonants for compound consonants, as in plow, bark, check, vial and draft; in the substitution of i for y to bring words into harmony with analogues, as in tire, cider and baritone (cf. wire, rider, merriment), and in the general tendency to get rid of the somewhat uneuphonious y, as in ataxia and pajamas. Clarity and simplicity are also served by substituting ct for x in such words as connection and inflection, and s for c in words of the defense group. The superiority of jail to gaol is made manifest by the common mispronunciation of the latter, making it rhyme with coal. The substitution of i for e in such words as indorse, inclose and jimmy is of less patent utility, but even here there is probably a slight gain in euphony. Of more obscure origin is what seems to be a tendency to avoid the o-sound, so that the English slog becomes slug, podgy becomes pudgy, nought becomes naught, slosh becomes slush, toffy becomes taffy, and so on. Other changes carry their own justification. Hostler is obviously better American than ostler, though it may be worse English. Show is more logical than shew.[3] Cozy is more nearly phonetic than cosy. Curb has analogues in curtain, curdle, curfew, curl, currant, curry, curve, curtsey, curse, currency, cursory, curtail, cur, curt and many other common words: kerb has very few, and of them only kerchief and kernel are in general use. Moreover, the English themselves use curb as a verb and in all noun senses save that shown in kerbstone.
But a number of anomalies remain. The American substitution of a for e in gray is not easily explained, nor is the substitution of k for c in skeptic and mollusk, nor the retention of e in forego, nor the unphonetic substitution of s for z in fuse, [Pg247] nor the persistence of the first y in pygmy. Here we have plain vagaries, surviving in spite of attack by orthographers. Webster, in one of his earlier books, denounced the k in skeptic as "a mere pedantry," but later on he adopted it. In the same way pygmy, gray and mollusk have been attacked, but they still remain sound American. The English themselves have many more such illogical forms to account for. In the midst of the our-words they cling to a small number in or, among them, stupor. Moreover, they drop the u in many derivatives, for example, in arboreal, armory, clamorously, clangorous, odoriferous, humorist, laborious and rigorism. If it were dropped in all derivatives the rule would be easy to remember, but it is retained in some of them, for example, colourable, favourite, misdemeanour, coloured and labourer. The derivatives of honour exhibit the confusion clearly. Honorary, honorarium and honorific drop the u, but honourable retains it. Furthermore, the English make a distinction between two senses of rigor. When used in its pathological sense (not only in the Latin form of rigor mortis, but as an English word) it drops the u; in all other senses it retains the u. The one American anomaly in this field is Saviour. In its theological sense it retains the u; but in that sense only. A sailor who saves his ship is its savior, not its saviour.
§ 3
The Influence of Webster—At the time of the first settlement of America the rules of English orthography were beautifully vague, and so we find the early documents full of spellings that would give an English lexicographer much pain today. Now and then a curious foreshadowing of later American usage is encountered. On July 4, 1631, for example, John Winthrop wrote in his journal that "the governour built a bark at Mistick, which was launched this day." But during the eighteenth century, and especially after the publication of Johnson's dictionary, there was a general movement in England toward a more inflexible orthography, and many hard and fast rules, still surviving, were then laid down. It was Johnson himself who [Pg248] established the position of the u in the our words. Bailey, Dyche and the other lexicographers before him were divided and uncertain; Johnson declared for the u, and though his reasons were very shaky[4] and he often neglected his own precept, his authority was sufficient to set up a usage which still defies attack in England. Even in America this usage was not often brought into question until the last quarter of the eighteenth century. True enough, honor appears in the Declaration of Independence, but it seems to have got there rather by accident than by design. In Jefferson's original draft it is spelled honour. So early as 1768 Benjamin Franklin had published his "Scheme for a New Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling, with Remarks and Examples Concerning the Same, and an Enquiry Into its Uses" and induced a Philadelphia typefounder to cut type for it, but this scheme was too extravagant to be adopted anywhere, or to have any appreciable influence upon spelling.[5]
It was Noah Webster who finally achieved the divorce between English example and American practise. He struck the first blow in his "Grammatical Institute of the English Language," published at Hartford in 1783. Attached to this work was an appendix bearing the formidable title of "An Essay on the Necessity, Advantages and Practicability of Reforming the Mode of Spelling, and of Rendering the Orthography of Words Correspondent to the Pronunciation," and during the same year, at Boston, he set forth his ideas a second time in the first edition of his "American Spelling Book." The influence of this spelling book was immediate and profound. It took the place in the schools of Dilworth's "Aby-sel-pha," the favorite of the generation preceding, and maintained its authority for fully a century. Until Lyman Cobb entered the lists with his "New Spelling Book," in 1842, its innumerable editions scarcely had [Pg249] any rivalry, and even then it held its own. I have a New York edition, dated 1848, which contains an advertisement stating that the annual sale at that time was more than a million copies, and that more than 30,000,000 copies had been sold since 1783. In the late 40's the publishers, George F. Cooledge & Bro., devoted the whole capacity of the fastest steam press in the United States to the printing of it. This press turned out 525 copies an hour, or 5,250 a day. It was "constructed expressly for printing Webster's Elementary Spelling Book [the name had been changed in 1829] at an expense of $5,000." Down to 1889, 62,000,000 copies of the book had been sold.
The appearance of Webster's first dictionary, in 1806, greatly strengthened his influence. The best dictionary available to Americans before this was Johnson's in its various incarnations, but against Johnson's stood a good deal of animosity to its compiler, whose implacable hatred of all things American was well known to the citizens of the new republic. John Walker's dictionary, issued in London in 1791, was also in use, but not extensively. A home-made school dictionary, issued at New Haven in 1798 or 1799 by one Samuel Johnson, Jr.—apparently no relative of the great Sam—and a larger work published a year later by Johnson and the Rev. John Elliott, pastor in East Guilford, Conn., seem to have made no impression, despite the fact that the latter was commended by Simeon Baldwin, Chauncey Goodrich and other magnificoes of the time and place, and even by Webster himself. The field was thus open to the laborious and truculent Noah. He was already the acknowledged magister of lexicography in America, and there was an active public demand for a dictionary that should be wholly American. The appearance of his first duodecimo, according to Williams,[6] thereby took on something of the character of a national event. It was received, not critically, but patriotically, and its imperfections were swallowed as eagerly as its merits. Later on Webster had to meet formidable critics, at home as well as abroad, but for nearly a quarter of a century he reigned almost unchallenged. Edition after edition of his dictionary was published, [Pg250] each new one showing additions and improvements. Finally, in 1828, he printed his great "American Dictionary of the English Language," in two large octavo volumes. It held the field for half a century, not only against Worcester and the other American lexicographers who followed him, but also against the best dictionaries produced in England. Until very lately, indeed, America remained ahead of England in practical dictionary making.
Webster had declared boldly for simpler spellings in his early spelling books; in his dictionary of 1806 he made an assault at all arms upon some of the dearest prejudices of English lexicographers. Grounding his wholesale reforms upon a saying by Franklin, that "those people spell best who do not know how to spell"—i. e., who spell phonetically and logically—he made an almost complete sweep of whole classes of silent letters—the u in the -our words, the final e in determine and requisite, the silent a in thread, feather and steady, the silent b in thumb, the s in island, the o in leopard, and the redundant consonants in traveler, wagon, jeweler, etc. (English: traveller, waggon, jeweller). More, he lopped the final k from frolick, physick and their analogues. Yet more, he transposed the e and the r in all words ending in re, such as theatre, lustre, centre and calibre. Yet more, he changed the c in all words of the defence class to s. Yet more, he changed ph to f in words of the phantom class, ou to oo in words of the group class, ow to ou in crowd, porpoise to porpess, acre to aker, sew to soe, woe to wo, soot to sut, gaol to jail, and plough to plow. Finally, he antedated the simplified spellers by inventing a long list of boldly phonetic spellings, ranging from tung for tongue to wimmen for women, and from hainous for heinous to cag for keg.
A good many of these new spellings, of course, were not actually Webster's inventions. For example, the change from -our to -or in words of the honor class was a mere echo of an earlier English usage, or, more accurately, of an earlier English uncertainty. In the first three folios of Shakespeare, 1623, 1632 and 1663-6, honor and honour were used indiscriminately and in almost equal proportions; English spelling was still fluid, and [Pg251] the -our-form was not consistently adopted until the fourth folio of 1685. Moreover, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, is authority for the statement that the -or-form was "a fashionable impropriety" in England in 1791. But the great authority of Johnson stood against it, and Webster was surely not one to imitate fashionable improprieties. He deleted the u for purely etymological reasons, going back to the Latin honor, favor and odor without taking account of the intermediate French honneur, faveur and odeur. And where no etymological reasons presented themselves, he made his changes by analogy and for the sake of uniformity, or for euphony or simplicity, or because it pleased him, one guesses, to stir up the academic animals. Webster, in fact, delighted in controversy, and was anything but free from the national yearning to make a sensation.
A great many of his innovations, of course, failed to take root, and in the course of time he abandoned some of them himself. In his early "Essay on the Necessity, Advantage and Practicability of Reforming the Mode of Spelling" he advocated reforms which were already discarded by the time he published the first edition of his dictionary. Among them were the dropping of the silent letter in such words as head, give, built and realm, making them hed, giv, bilt and relm; the substitution of doubled vowels for decayed diphthongs in such words as mean, zeal and near, making them meen, zeel and neer; and the substitution of sh for ch in such French loan-words as machine and chevalier, making them masheen and shevaleer. He also declared for stile in place of style, and for many other such changes, and then quietly abandoned them. The successive editions of his dictionary show still further concessions. Croud, fether, groop, gillotin, iland, insted, leperd, soe, sut, steddy, thret, thred, thum and wimmen appear only in the 1806 edition. In 1828 he went back to crowd, feather, group, island, instead, leopard, sew, soot, steady, thread, threat, thumb and women, and changed gillotin to guillotin. In addition, he restored the final e in determine, discipline, requisite, imagine, etc. In 1838, revising his dictionary, he abandoned a good many spellings that had appeared in either the 1806 or the 1828 edition, notably maiz for maize, [Pg252] suveran for sovereign and guillotin for guillotine. But he stuck manfully to a number that were quite as revolutionary—for example, aker for acre, cag for keg, grotesk for grotesque, hainous for heinous, porpess for porpoise and tung for tongue—and they did not begin to disappear until the edition of 1854, issued by other hands and eleven years after his death. Three of his favorites, chimist for chemist, neger for negro and zeber for zebra, are incidentally interesting as showing changes in American pronunciation. He abandoned zeber in 1828, but remained faithful to chimist and neger to the last.
But though he was thus forced to give occasional ground, and in more than one case held out in vain, Webster lived to see the majority of his reforms adopted by his countrymen. He left the ending in -or triumphant over the ending in -our, he shook the security of the ending in -re, he rid American spelling of a great many doubled consonants, he established the s in words of the defense group, and he gave currency to many characteristic American spellings, notably jail, wagon, plow, mold and ax. These spellings still survive, and are practically universal in the United States today; their use constitutes one of the most obvious differences between written English and written American. Moreover, they have founded a general tendency, the effects of which reach far beyond the field actually traversed by Webster himself. New words, and particularly loan-words, are simplified, and hence naturalized in American much more quickly than in English. Employé has long since become employee in our newspapers, and asphalte has lost its final e, and manoeuvre has become maneuver, and pyjamas has become pajamas. Even the terminology of science is simplified and Americanized. In medicine, for example, the highest American usage countenances many forms which would seem barbarisms to an English medical man if he encountered them in the Lancet. In derivatives of the Greek haima it is the almost invariable American custom to spell the root syllable hem, but the more conservative English make it haem—e. g., in haemorrhage and haemiplegia. In an exhaustive list of diseases issued by the United States Public Health [Pg253] Service[7] the haem-form does not appear once. In the same way American usage prefers esophagus, diarrhea and gonorrhea to the English oesophagus, diarrhoea and gonorrhoea. In the style-book of the Journal of the American Medical Association[8] I find many other spellings that would shock an English medical author, among them curet for curette, cocain for cocaine, gage for gauge, intern for interne, lacrimal for lachrymal, and a whole group of words ending in -er instead of in -re.
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