Gray vs. Grey

As far back as I can remember, I was taught that grAy was used when speaking of the color. GrEy carried a different definition… it was generally used when speaking of something dark or dull.

Recently, I’ve been seeing the spelling ‘grey’ referring to a color in somewhat formal contexts.

So, what’s the color and are the spellings interchangeable?

The standard usage is that “gray” is always used for all meanings in American spelling, and “grey” is always used for all meanings in British spelling.

I personally don’t follow this standard. I grew up in America, but read a lot of British fantasy authors, so I tend to use “grey” in contexts which are likely to show up in fantasy novels, and “gray” in other contexts. So, for instance, a faded pair of formerly-black jeans are gray, but billowing mists blowing off of a marsh are grey.

You might have been confused by people like me.

Here’s what the OED has to say about things:

Greyhound buses?

Except of course when they’re proper names, in which case they should be spelled however they’re spelled (or, in the UK, spelt however they’re spelt).

Why is there no grey in a rainbow?

It’s all used up painting the clouds.

This interests me, because a few days ago, there was a guy on the radio here talking about a new romanticism in American usage, and I’m wondering if this fits it. The example he gave was of certain beautiful, foreign-sounding, or beautifully foreign-sounding words being given special pronunciation treatment. He cited the American habit of saying “per-FUME” rather than the Commonwealth “PER-fume” because it sounds more exotic and luxurious.

Just wondering if this has any traction?

I typically use “grey,” pluralize “bus” as “busses,” and prefer “catalogue,” but it’s just personal preference. I have no idea why (well, except “buses” bothers me to no end). Never I have heard a fellow American utter “per-FUME,” though.

In my experience, Americans pronounce perfume with emphasis on the first syllable when it is a noun, on the second when it is a verb.

“That’s nice perfume you’re wearing tonight.”

“The smell of baking bread will perfume your house and encourage buyers to think of it as home.”

That’s odd. When it was mentioned, it definitely struck a chord of familiarity to me. Maybe it’s just a Hollywood thing (we non-Americans are aware of the need to filter cultural references accordingly, but we don’t always get it right).

It’s “gray” if you’re an American, but “grey” if you’re a Brit, a Tolkien fan, or just want to give your writing a more cosmopolitan air.

I put the accent on the second syllable of “perfume” for all usages (born and raised in NE Ohio, FWIW).

Maybe you were thinking of me. I think I stress the second syllable, noun or verb. I say “think” because for the past couple of minutes, I’ve been saying it out loud (alternating the stress), and I’m still not sure which one I usually say…

In any case, there are indeed certain foreign words–especially French–that Americans usually pronounce differently from our Commonwealth cousins. “Herb” and “filet” spring to mind (" 'erb" and “fillay,” respectively). It’s not a conscious affectation, though–I (and most other Americans, I presume) have simply learned to pronounce those words like that. So, I wouldn’t say it’s a new romanticism at all, but an long-standing convention.

I’ll also add “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in here as an example of a British* example of the “a”-spelling–in that case, for a proper name rather than the color (or colour).
*or technically Anglo-Irish, since Wilde was actually born in Ireland…

I say per-FUME for all uses of the word. SW Ohio.

Accent on the first syllable for a noun but the second syllable for the verb form is fairly standard in English. You can also see it in “record”, for instance. Or, for that matter, “accent”.

That said, I’m honestly not sure where I put the accent when using “perfume” as a noun. I’m sitting here saying both to myself, and they both sound right. The verb always has the accent on the second, though.

Indeed. My favorite tea is Earl Grey, but a few years ago I met a British comedienne named Natalie Gray.

Personally, depite being an American I’ve always preferred to spell the color with an “e”. I’m not sure why, other than a vague recollection that that’s how it was spelled on the Crayola Crayons I had as a child.

Likewise, I spell all those words that the British spell with a “u” without the “u” … except “saviour”. I don’t know why.

This is what I was going to say.

I also learned

GrAy = Color

Grey = Everything else BUT color

(Names spelled as they are)

I’ve noticed that the USA can’t seem to make up it’s mind how to spell theater or theatre.

And here I have been using them interchangeably. I did not know one was for Brits and the other for Yanks.

A lot of Americans nowadays make the distinction that a theater is a place and theatre is the art, i.e. you go to the theater to see the theatre students perform. It’s not necessarily a correct* or useful distinction, but it definitely exists to several people I’ve met.

*Well, not incorrect usage either, I suppose. It’s more “neutral.”