LawProse Lesson #223: The Economist’s “Misspellings”

LawProse Lesson #223: The Economist’s “Misspellings”

Every once in a while, an American will tell me that The Economist makes for wretched reading because of its many misspellings. I fear that they’re betraying both provincialism and sloth in reading. Like all other British publications, The Economist uses British English spellings. Hence BrE –our (favour) to AmE –or (favor), BrE –re (centre) to AmE –er (center), BrE –ise (organise) to AmE –ize (organize), BrE doubling of terminal –in an inflected unaccented syllable (levelled) to AmE lack of doubling (leveled), and BrE variants such as aluminium to AmE aluminum, BrE byelaw to AmE bylaw, BrE defence to AmE defense, BrE enrolment to AmE enrollment, BrE jewellery to AmE jewelry, BrE tyres to AmE tires, and so forth. These are not misspellings; they’re British variants. The linguistic evidence shows a trend in BrE to adopt some AmE spellings over time, but it’s happening very gradually. For example, organize has overtaken organise in BrE since 1925; tires has come to rival tyres in BrE since 1990; encyclopedia has outpaced encyclopaedia in BrE since the early 1990s; favor has begun to converge with favour in frequency of BrE use since 2000; and enrolment is being threatened by enrollment. While this is taking place, American readers should be magnanimous enough not to accuse traditionalist Mother Country publications of “spelling errors.” Many of the differences between AmE and BrE spelling, by the way, are traceable to Noah Webster’s simplifications in his early-19th-century spellers and dictionaries. For his contributions to American English, he is often honored (not honoured) as one of the Founding Fathers. Further reading: Garner’s Modern American Usage 41, 763‐65 (3d ed. 2009).

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