Please, keep breathing – let me explain.
I’ve decided effective communication is more important than spelling.
There. I’ve said it.
Now before you march down to the comments section and start pelting me with pencil shavings, please hear me out. I’m a trained journalist, not a grammatical vandal, and while your toes may be curling and your hair standing on end, I’m not writing this lightly.
You see, my backstory in English spelling is… complicated.
I’m not an authentic anglophone. English is my fourth language and my adolescence was filled with confusion about the subtle differences between ham and jam.
I took my first real English steps in American, learning to spell color and neighbor and favor with an ‘or’. As you should, right?
I moved to Canada (this part gets a bit confusing), perfected my English, became a journalist and words like colour and neighbour soon replaced their American counterparts.
My newspaper editors taught me stories had to be perfect. Commit murder rather than spell poorly, they said, from the top of their elitist copy desk. How will anyone believe you if you can’t even spell ‘harbour’ properly?
As sometimes happens with foreigners, I became a stellar speller and my colleagues scoured my work for an editorial stumble, a grammatical faux-pas that would bring me down a peg.
Eventually in 2007 I launched Women on the Road and lo and behold, more than half my readers were… American.
What to do? Revert to US spelling? Remain resolutely Canadian?
Would my American readers really mind an occasional double-ell in traveller? Would my other English-speaking followers feel dishonored by a missing ‘u’?
If I lived in an English-speaking country I could plead local custom. But I live in France. My entire cultural heritage is non-English.
So I reached out for advice, a cozy and informal Facebook message to friends who know about things like words.
How annoying. They’re were split down the middle, stirring their cauldron of superiority (you know, my way is better than your way and all that).
In the end there was no getting away from it: I would have to make a decision.
I went with democracy. America won.
And then it all went pear-shaped.
I became confused. My superlative spelling skills deserted me. Had that debt been canceled or cancelled?
The more I thought about words the less certain I was.
Always so sure of my pen, I began hesitating. I faltered and tripped, tricked by a measly letter or two.
My creativity evaporated. Rather than letting my thoughts flow, I wavered over words I had barely noticed before. Instead of finishing a chapter or a story, I’d be stuck on line three, strangled by a once-familiar adverb and running for the dictionary. I became obsessive.
I pasted everything into Word, using UK and American and Canadian spellchecks to compare.
Everything looked wrong.
From questioning my spelling, I started vetting the very words I used. Eventually I avoided writing, more afraid of getting a word wrong than a thought right.
With the abject failure of my spellcheck strategy, I decided to try substitution. When seesawing between labour and labor, why not use the word ‘work’? And couldn’t a neighbour simply become the person next door?
The weakness of this approach became apparent before the thought was even formulated: it cut me off from a multitude of otherwise quite useful words. Imagine crafting stories without honor, behavior, rigor or pretense?
No way. So I’ve opted for the path of least resistance, the one that will once again allow me to communicate.
From now on, I shall ignore spelling differences.
Rather than offend a portion of my readers with my erratic English, I believe I shall offend you all in equal measure.
If I feel like savouring a meal in my parlor, I’ll do that. And if the dishes are the wrong colour, so be it.
I’m not inclined to reprogram(me) myself over and over. I need my writing flow back.
So listen up, English-spellings-from-different-places: I’ve decided to give you the cold shoulder. (Please, tell me there’s no such word as sholder?)
I henceforth declare war on linguistic differences. To the barricades against language variations!
It does feel a bit criminal to say, but… yes, I may massacre English spelling and murder its vocabulary.
And I trust I’ll feel immensely better as a result.
Does spelling the English or the American way offend your sensitivities? Is a missing letter more important than an evocative story, well told?
Tell me… Does it really matter?