I’m interested in the development of English, how regional variations evolved and where the language is heading.
For someone who has never undertaken formal academic study it’s probably unusual to be interested in linguistics, but I do find the subject stimulating.
The matter of -or/our spellings is something I feel qualified through experience to comment on.
At school we were taught to spell colour, flavour, etc with the -our ending; -or was considered American, heaven forbid.
I became a journalist in 1987 and the “style” at all Victorian newspapers I worked on was to favor -or endings.
Newspapers are commendably practical when it comes to language. Cadet reporters are taught to simplify how they write and to be as brief as possible.
I believed it was in that spirit that -or endings were preferred.
In the early 90s I undertook family history research. This involved many hours perusing old newspapers from the 19th century.
It surprised me that all those early papers (in Victoria) used the -or spelling. I wondered when and why -our became the school standard.
I meant to quote “Fowler’s Modern English Usage” and the “Cambridge English Style Guide” here, but I left them at work and won’t be in the office (if I can help it) for another week.
I read the references today and paraphrase them here.
Fowler spoke about -our having become the standard for words of French origin and -or for Latin, but conceded the source was unclear in many cases. I think Fowler believed -or was more sensible and I read somewhere he might have been overruled by his editor.
The Cambridge reference explained that Noah Webster simplified many of the English spellings in his American dictionary.
Canadians use both variations, as do Australians to a lesser extent. Mention was made of newspaper style, emphasising it was mostly Victorian to prefer -or.
As a student I believed it was loyal Australian to use -our because -or was American. As a journalist I became comfortable with -or and that’s now my preferred personal style.
That brings me to -ise or -ize. I realise that’s another inconsistency and I’ll organize my thoughts before posting again.
Thanks to Johanna, curious readers might like to visit the Spelling Society website.