Further Adventures in British English: The Letter U

The British love the letter U. They use it at every possible opportunity (neighbour, colour, flavour, savoury), and it drives some of my friends insane that Americans don’t. It’s one of those things: If you let it get to you, it will. Gleefully. If I have to write something in British, I assign myself a handful of U’s and I don’t stop writing until I’ve used them all. When I write in American, I now see tiny gaps in neighbor and color where the U isn’t: colo’r; neighbo’r.

He's been here before, but I can now offer some advice: Make your your spell check is set to the right language.

He’s been here before, but I can now offer some advice: Make your your spellcheck is set to the right language.

And no matter which country I’m writing for, my spell check is set to the other. To my embarrassment, it snuck a U into neighbor a while back, and I posted it on the blog, which T. (copy editor that she is, down to the bone) pointed out diplomatically. I felt like the carrier of an, admittedly mild, disease—U-itis. I don’t have the bug myself, but I did spread it.

26 thoughts on “Further Adventures in British English: The Letter U

  1. U-itis… is there a cream for that? :-) hahaha! I suffer similarly, Ellen… it’s kind of an Anglo-American thing. We will invariably be on the wrong side of the keyboard when we spring it upon people, either by inclusion or omission. Another one that gets them going on both sides of the pond is aluminum. Or is it aluminium? Haha! I have had to explain endlessly that Americans don’t pronounce it the British way because we are short one i, not just really super lazy about pronunciation. Ok. So maybe we are. But not with regards to aluminum! xx MH

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  2. haha…yes there’s something about that bloomin’ U which gets us all het up!…. Us Brits can’t half be pedants about the English language but happily forget that a lot of American spelling/pronunciation is actually the original form…although, I have to say I did spend almost 10 whole minutes the other day trying to pronounce Massachusetts correctly!

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    • Okay, I just spent a minute trying to figure out how to mispronounce Massachusetts. Funny how much sense these things seem to make once you get used to them. The state I regularly hear mispronounced is Michigan–it comes out Mitch-i-gun instead of Mish-i-gun. Which makes perfect sense and I can’t justify finding it funny, but I do.

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  3. Having read a LOT of British fiction when I was a kid, I still think that British spellings and style conventions look right most of the time. There’s something brisk and scant about those words without a u: neighbor doesn’t look nearly as neighbourly as neighbour to me, and I inevitably spell travelling with two l’s. The Chicago Manual of Style has tried in vain to convince me otherwise—it’s a very good thing I’m not a copyeditor.

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    • Living with two spelling systems is raising hell with my own copy-editing skills, such as they ever were. It’s a good thing I retired. I haven’t checked the Chicago Manual or THE (as opposed to simply a) dictionary since I moved here.

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  4. Haha, what a hilarious post! Sorry that I revel in your unhappiness but I know it too well… I work with both British and American English, neither of which is my mother tongue, and neither Chicago Style nor Oxford Style quite please my preferences. My eyes, used to British English, see American English as lacking in u-letters and letters in general. Yet, when I tried using the Oxford Style, it recommended that I use -ize instead of my usual -ise endings. So, I’m poised between languages too… And I’ll second your advice to check that you have the right spell check on.

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  5. The post suggestions at the bottom of each of your posts are going to be the death of me! I come here and find they’re from years long gone. (It’s tempting to write loung gone but then neither of us would be right!) Do you get many comments on these old posts or am I alone here?
    I got used to American spellings without the U when I learnt some HTML for one of my earlier blogs (couldn’t have anything in a side panel without it) and discovered that HTML is written in American English. So sometimes, despite myself, I find myself typing center, color, etc.

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    • I do occasionally find comments on old, ould posts and wonder how a reader landed there. So now I know. Thanks for solving a mystery. I haven’t updated my categories since shortly after I started blogging (I should, I should, I probably won’t), which means that the connections are something thin indeed. But it’s nice to see these old posts kept alive.

      Microsoft Word, for reasons that I’ll never understand, bounces me from one spelling system to another, although from time to time I do set the default for American English. But since I sometimes write things that need to be in British English (or my best approximation thereof, which mostly means no Z’s and a random number of U’s), I’ve learned to ignoure the little red lines that tell me I’m spelling something wroung. Which is a shame, because sometimes I have.

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      • Rather you thsn me writing (evev if it’ on and off) in what amounts to two dialects in Microsoft Word. I gave up on the damn thing and switched to OpenOffice which is free, similar but way better.
        The old posts, by the way will be due to a widget you’ve set, I think.

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        • And I’m sure I could update all of that and do miraculous things that would inform the world of every brilliant one of them but I’m not gonna get around to it, am I? Nope, I’m not. And yes, I do see what you mean about the typos. Let’s not lose any sleep over them.

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