The Only Time You Can Spell Harbour Without A ‘U’ In Australia

The Only Time You Can Spell Harbour Without A ‘U’ In Australia

Harbour is one of the many, many words which have a different spelling in Australian English than US English. We always include the “u”; the Yanks never do. But there are two fair dinkum Aussie examples where leaving out the “u” is actually the right approach.

The South Australian towns of Victor Harbor and Outer Harbor both have the u-free spelling, and always have had. Speculation suggests that a poorly-informed surveyor general back in the day made the mistake, and it has stuck ever since. Whatever the reason, it’s yet another exception you’ll need to learn if you’re ever writing about South Australia. (It’s worth going to Victor Harbor to try out the horse-drawn tram.)

Historical note: Variations between -or and -our in English began showing up in the 17th century, when there was a push to spell words of French origin with the -our ending, and those with Latin origins with an -or ending. Like most attempts to enforce spelling based on ancient etymology, this ended up confusing more people than it helped. In the US, standardisation eventually resulted in -or becoming the accepted suffix in virtually all circumstances, but UK (and hence Australian) English maintains a mixture of both variants.

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  • I wonder if they use that point in advertising the town for tourism. “Victor Harbor – the only thing missing is U”

  • “In the US, standardisation eventually resulted in -or becoming the accepted suffix in virtually all circumstances” -> In the US, standardiZation …. 🙂

    I think it was more the reforming zeal of dictionary editors like Noah Webster.

    Note also with theatre/theater in the US, there are many examples of uppercase Theatre e.g.

  • I just wish we’d decide on something. I have a couple of American friends and recently had to explain to them that “actually our conservative party is the ‘Liberal Party’ and our liberal party is the ‘Labor Party’ spelled your way.” Why? I honestly have no idea.

    • I believe the ALP adopted the American spelling of ‘labour’ to acknowledge the labour movements that were active in the United States at that time (late 19th/early 20th century).

      I suppose the Liberal Party was named for liberalism (basically individual freedom as long as you do not harm others) which is generally expressed in their economic beliefs. The confusion arises because some are social/cultural liberals as well (the so called ‘wet’ faction, e.g. Turnbull) and some are social/cultural conservatives (the ‘dry’ faction, e.g. Abbott).

      To complete the ideological soup.. there are also social/cultural ‘liberals’ in the ALP (more likely in the left factions) and social/cultural conservatives (more likely in the right factions).

      (Edit. Then there’s the National Party.. that’s a different kettle of fish! In coalition with the Liberal Party, but there’s members within the party that are almost agrarian socialists! Some support single desk monopolies on certain commodities (like wheat, milk, etc.), tariffs, import restrictions (on produce) and subsidies – which seems decidedly un-economically liberal and contra-free market. Maybe we need a Lifehacker article to break all this down!)

      • Thanks for the correction. The story I heard must have been a retcon to make changing the spelling seem slightly more reasonable.

  • Ah yes, the American missing U.
    Except it isnt missing every hor of the day. Or even at For o’clock.

  • “but UK (and hence Australian) English maintains a mixture of both variants.”

    Until reading this line, it did not even occur to me this was the case, simply due to the fact which words end with ‘-our’ and which with ‘-or’ is ingrained into my subconscious, and I only pick up American spelling of words lacking ‘u’.

  • All six ‘harbors’ in South Australia are officially spelt without a ‘u’: Outer Harbor, Franklin Harbor, Rosetta Harbor, Victor Harbor, Blanche Harbor and Yatala Harbor. Although a quick Google search of Franklin Harbor reveals that the ‘official’ version isn’t necessarily all that official – the local council in Cowell on the Eyre Peninsula is known as the ‘District Council of Franklin Harbour’.

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