Friday, 13 December 2013

111213 and American spelling

A few days ago it was 11 December 2013, which, in sensible parts of the world might be written as 111213 (ddmmyy). It’s a special date and many couples therefore chose to get married on that day. Americans, of course, do many (most?) things in a  somewhat cock-eyed fashion and so, instead of it being 111213, for them it is 121113 (mmddyy), which is totally illogical, Mr Spock. Presumably, American couples were rushing to the hook-up ceremony about a month ago, on 12 November 2013, which in Americanese dating is also 111213.

And just think of all the trouble we went to some forty-and-more years ago to change the date entry in punch-cards (remember them?) to correspond as much as possible to the ISO Recommendation R 2014 of 1971: yymmdd. (Yup, only two positions for the year, in order to save precious space, but would lead to problems in the year 2000, of course.)

Anyway, Americans aren’t just peculiar about their dates, they’ve also created havoc with the English language. They use different words to standard British English and where they do deign to use the same words, they spell them differently, making a complete shambles of computer-based spell-checkers.

Here are just some examples of British English words and their American English equivalents:

Car Automobile
Bonnet Hood
Boot Trunk
Bumper Fender
Lorry Truck
Petrol Gasoline

(It's a wonder they don't call brakes "stoppers”.)

Tap Faucet
Cellar Basement
Garden Yard
Spanner Wrench

Pavement Sidewalk
Motorway Highway
Tarmac Hardtop

Ground floor First floor
First floor Second floor
(and so on; how crazy is that!)

Leave Furlough

Americans can be prudish protestants, of course, so they prefer “cleaned up” versions of some words:

Arse becomes Ass
Cock becomes Rooster

(but their use of “tidbits” actually reflects the original form of what in UK English is known as “titbits”.)

Clearly, then, there is a problem with word-usage, which is admittedly difficult to overcome with computer software. This is somewhat different where the spelling of the same words is different in the US version of English to the correct UK version. Unfortunately, however, most personal computers are sold with operating systems that think in US English and if the user does nothing, the spell-checker fails to correct Americanisms in documents that are produced in the many parts of the world that should use British English. I have even seen texts from the European Union that have included American spellings—a travesty if ever there was one!

If you own a personal computer, be its operating system OS X, Windows, or Linux (or even a tablet running iOS, Android, or whatever), and if you live in the civilised part of the world, then please check your language settings to make sure you are using British English (perhaps referred to as UK English) and not US English (often referred to simply as English in setups, so look further!).

Double-l is almost always reduced to a single, forlorn ”l”, as in:

Jewelry (which sparkles even less because of the dropped “e” in addition to the dropped “l”)

The letter-combination “ou” is likewise abbreviated, this time to just the “o”:

Colour becomes Color
Favour becomes Favor
Flavour becomes Flavor
Neighbour becomes Neighbor
Neighbourhood becomes Neighborhood

And what they do with "through" is nothing short of a massacre, making it "thru".

So, remember, “English” in your computer does not necessarily mean English as it is used in the UK and as it should therefore be used in Europe. The thing is, there is no standard, global English. In Europe, only British English (referred to in some systems as UK English) should be used. Check your systems to ensure that this is the version of English that is being used for your dictionaries, be they application-only or system-wide, and all other system settings. (And if you have an iPad, you can get Siri to speak with a “correct” British accent, too.)