-er/-re words

Anyone know why Americans spell words -er e.g. center, meter, while British people spell them -re. Also, what about harbor, color, these have a ‘u’ in British English. Just curious.

Naughty of me to reply in GQ this way - but - no cite, I’m afraid, as I am in hurry. It was my impression that this is because Noah Webster (dictionary chappie) was also very keen on spelling reform, and wanted a more logical-looking spelling. (Of course, I can’t imagine why he kept the “h” at tbe end of his name, in that case!)


The British spelling, AFAIK, is based on the French one (but hasn’t always been - Shakespeare uses both -our and -or, until the -our version started to be considered standard).

From this page.

In the past few centuries, people were much less obsessed with unifying spellings than we are nowadays - a lot of versions were accepted, and there was no need for standardizing orthography.

Melville Dewey (library chappie :)) was also a big proponent of spelling reform. He even signed his name Melvil Dui at times, as I understand it.

As the English invented the language, it seems reasonable to let them pick how to spell words in it. On this basis, the Americans are spelling them wrongly.

These spelling differences are part of a larger issue.

It is worth noting how far the English and American languages had diverged by the start of the 20th century. Modern communications and the various media have kept the two languages closely synchronised, so that American is a dialect of English. People from both sides of the Atlantic can usually understand each other.

Without these unifying forces, users of the two languages would probably have difficulty in understanding each other today. A new language would have been born.

My American history is not too good, but my vague understanding was that for a while there, America wasn’t a huge fan of England, therefore, and differences were siezed upon and exagerated or perpetuated, this included spelling and accents (and probably other stuff I can’t think of now).

True. And don’t forget Oscar Wilde’s comment that the English and the Americans were two races divided by the same language.

The animus against England was such that, after the Revolutionary War, there were several proposals put to Congress to institute a different official language for the United States. Ancient Greek was one of the suggestions, and German another. Of course, because of the monumental difficulties involved in these suggestions, these proposals fizzled into nothing.

AFAIK none of those proposals has ever been meant serious. Shortly after independence, Americans might have hated England, but there was never any doubt English would be the common (although not official) langauge of the newly born nation.