When Does 'Centre' Become 'Center'?

The short answer, for users of Australian (and British) English is that it generally doesn't. However, the usual caveat applies: if the proper name of something includes a variant spelling, you're stuck with using that version.

One of the more consistent themes here at Mind Your Language is that we shouldn't be adopting American English spellings simply because we run into them constantly online. That's not a criticism of our US brethren who are using those spellings; it's simply a reminder that what's correct for one group of people isn't correct for another, especially in the case of a global language such as English. Accurate writing and spelling requires learning lots of rules, and regional usage is a key element of that.

One rule which I'm reminded of this week is that even when there is a clearly correct spelling in general Australian usage, such as 'centre' rather than 'center', there will be occasions when you have to use the Americanised spelling. I'm in the middle of one such occasion: Data Center World in Las Vegas, which I'm attending for our ongoing World Of Servers series.

I covered an event called Data Centre World for World Of Servers back in February. That one was held in the UK, so there wasn't a spelling issue. But this time around, I'll have to be happy with providing data centre advice from an event called Data Center World. It would be confusing and inaccurate to change the name of the event, which is essentially serving as a proper noun, to match my normal spelling practice. Rules have exceptions, and you need to learn those.

Anyone who codes HTML will already be familiar with this problem. The standard tag for putting text or images in the centre is center, and any attempt to use the alternative version won't work. That doesn't thrill me, but it does remind me that accuracy often depends on context.

Lifehacker's Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


    Whilst I try and only use British English, I will never spell jail as gaol.

    'Center' cannot be avoided, due to its use in HTML, and its spelling in the name of apps such as Apple's 'Game Center'.

      I completely agree with using jail over gaol. I think jail looks more correct due to all the cartoons we would have watched as children spelling it that way. Or monopoly perhaps

    I still remember in court a judge almost throwing a court case out due to the papers being done in US spelling and not British. It was funny to watch this bloke keep saying sorry to a judge when he picked out every word that's wrong. Very funny.

    yep, throw back to Basic and Color vs Colour

      "Color" makes more sense than "colour" with a silent "u". Now I think I've just seen the word color too much and it looks weird!

    "The standard tag for centering text" - why did you not use the spelling "centring" in this case? It is not a proper noun nor used in coding.

    Last edited 29/04/13 3:08 pm

    Recently the SMH has been frequently spelling behaviour as “behavior”; even when they are not directly quoting someone or re-publishing a US article.

    Including this article which has both spellings: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-news/the-unfriendly-skies-chinese-passengers-outrageous-behaviour-20130306-2fkej.html#ixzz2RpFFsoxe “...the woman who was threatened for her nosy behavior...“ and “Such misbehavior didn't begin this...”
    I am disappointed in the SMH.

      You and everyone else worth the oxygen they consume, I'm sure.

      English is a world language. That means that its various spellings ar (sic) "correct" anywhere in the world. It makes sense to use center (rimes, enter) rather than centre (which, to a young learner, could be sentry!). Behavior is a correct spelling.

    On jail vs gaol, there are a few examples where Australia has progressively moved away from British English - one that springs to mind is program versus programme. The latter use was universal in Australia in the 1960s but is very rarely used now - the British retain it except in the case of computer program.

    Can we make a deal with the US? We'll adopt -or and -ize if they accept -re and acknowledge there is a difference between -se and -ce.

      Never! I feel like the minority here that still uses programme...

    @Reow: You're SUFFIcating me. Ohh, oh another one. You seem sufFIXATED on this issue.

    Will the world be a better place once it's-sufFIXED?

    Ok, I'll stop...

    Last edited 29/04/13 4:28 pm

    Angus, similar to centre vs. center -- what's you're take on programme vs program? I was taught as a kid that "program" is for computer programs only, and "programme" is for everything else such as TV programme. Is that still true, or has Australian English adopted the american spelling nowadays (I very rarely see "programme" used anymore in australian writing)

      I use the word "channel" when referring to a "programme" on TV...

        What? TV "programmes" are what are shown on TV "channels".

          DUUDE! i am such an idiot... yes.. you are right.. what i meant is a channel is a channel and a programme is a show. lol

    Since this is Mind Your Language, I feel I should point out…
    It's not " the usual caveat applies" but "the usual exception applies"
    A caveat is a warning.

    As long as you can understand what the other person is saying it shouldn't matter if you spelt it correctly. Language is for Communication, it is for ever evolving, not static.

    In an unusual reversal, IBM (now Lenovo) insisted on the spelling "ThinkCentre" for its range of desktop PCs.

    If the past participle of "center" is "centered", is the p.p. of "centre" then "centred" (do you drop the "e") or does it also use "centrered"?

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