MI5 versus Noah Webster

This short article in yesterday’s Guardian about the spelling of the word Spectre in the most recent James Bond title is an interesting delve into a perceived cultural battle between American and British spelling. The title of the article, How James Bond rescued filmgoers from the Spectre of Americanisation, contains three Britishisms itself: “filmgoers” (which would be “moviegoers” in North America), “spectre”, and, ironically, “Americanisation” (which would be spelled “Americanization” in the US).

Does Spectre's left hand know what its right hand is doing?

Does Spectre’s left hand know what its right hand is doing?

The writer of the article says that, “The Commonwealth is home to more than 2 billion people, America roughly 318 million. Understandably, speakers of other languages tend to be more familiar with British English than with its younger counterpart, except in places like the Philippines, where American influence has held sway.” However the cultural influence of American English is proportionately far greater than those numbers would suggest. Movie making, just like publishing, is an industry, and ultimately it’s the size of the market (its spending power) that counts.

Of course there’s no right or wrong when it comes to spelling variations across cultures, although Brits do tend to get very touchy about these things. As a kid in England, I can remember my mother not allowing me and my sister to watch Sesame Street because she didn’t want me to grow up “talking American”, which is a bit strange, since American kids who watch Harry Potter don’t end up sounding like posh Brits!

And I should know how bizarre these discussions can get because I now live in Canada, where there are three different accepted spellings of the word yogurt. Or is that yogourt? Or yoghurt? Either way, I’ll take mine shaken, not stirred.

Photo credit: Tamsin Slater / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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