Why Americans Spell English Words Differently

Why Americans Spell English Words Differently

Have you ever wondered why Americans and British/Aussies spell English differently? How are colour and colour the same word? Centre and center? What’s up with that? It’s all thanks to Noah Webster (yeah, the Webster of Merriam-Webster). When America gained independence, Webster wanted to simplify unreasonable spellings that were handed down from the British.

Webster went a little bit too far when he made his first dictionary though. He dropped silent letters so words like “determine”, “leopard” and “soup” became “determin”, “leperd” and “soop”. Some of his spellings obviously never caught on, but the break from Britain’s English essentially started there. Some caught on like cutting U’s from “colour” and “flavour” and putting R’s after E’s in “centre”.

During that time, the Brits doubled down on their way of spelling and basically scorned at the new American way of spelling (though they did drop the -K in words like “magic”). They kept their spelling as America changed theirs. It’s a fun bit of language history to learn about. Watch as Arika Okrent explains below.

This article was originally published on Gizmodo.


  • The whole thing is a basket case. The US tried to simplify some spellings (colour), which would, as example, skip the old French (same spelling) and make the word closer to a phonetic spelling.

    Many words were missed (eg. Knight, psychic, elephant) or the famous “ie” and “ei” that have caused many kids issues in learning.

    On one side of the fence, the Brits rejected a half-baked job at standardisation without working as a team. On the other side, the US recognised their forebears were sticks in the mud that would cling to the old ways for fear of losing perceived authority as the boss.

    Things were very interesting back then. Tea parties (no cake!), coercive acts, flag desecration and other displays.

    The world has changed many times since then. We can celebrate two quite different cultures. Faulty Towers and Monty Python vs Seinfeld and 30 Rock. British Invasion and punk vs NWA and Taylor Swift.

    What we need is pidgin! I propose the UN lead the charge.

  • Didn’t they try that with Esperanto?

    Problem is, one country spells things one way and the rest of the English speaking world does it the other – though the internet is slowly moving everyone over to the US way.

    Now, let’s talk about the metric system!

  • “How are colour and colour the same word?” For some articles, you really need to turn the spellchecker off!

  • They ar the same word because words precede their spellings. Some languages still dont even hav a ritten version, but that does not stop them from having words.

    As for color/colour, my preference would be kuller.

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