Home > Contemplations > Canadian English Spelling Continues To Surprise Me

Canadian English Spelling Continues To Surprise Me


Cosy not cozy Toronto Star 2011.12.08

I live in Canada and was raised most of my life right here in Canada but to this day, Canadian English still amazes and surprises me when I see it written. When I glanced at a newspaper the other day (yesterday’s Toronto Star) I saw this strange word before me. I had honestly never ever seen the word ‘cosy’ before but given the context I immediately understood they meant ‘cozy.’ At first, I thought the Star had screwed up but knowing that Canadian English can often be a funny beast I went to a dictionary to find out. Lo and behold when I looked up the word ‘cosy’ in an Oxford English Dictionary it had ‘cozy’ in brackets with ‘US’ in front of it indicating that with an ‘s’ was the British spelling and the US variant was with a ‘z.’ (A letter which I have always referred to as a ‘zee’, by the way)

According to Wikipedia’s article on Canadian English under Spelling & Dictionaries:

Canadian spelling of the English language combines British and American conventions.

  • French-derived words that in American English end with -or and -er, such as color or center, retain British spellings (colour, honour and centre). While the United States uses the Anglo-French spelling defense (noun), Canadians use the British spellings defence and offence. (Note that defensive and offensive are universal.) 
  • In other cases, Canadians and Americans differ from British spelling, such as in the case of nouns like curb and tire, which in British English are spelled kerb and tyre. 
  • Words such as realize and paralyze are usually spelled with -ize or -yze rather than -ise or -yse. (The etymological convention that verbs derived from Greek roots are spelled with -ize and those from Latin with -ise is preserved in that practice.) 
  • Some nouns take -ice while matching verbs take -ise – for example, practice is a noun and practise is a verb; in addition, licence is a noun and license is a verb. (Note that prophecy and prophesy are universal.)
  • Canadian spelling sometimes retains the British practice of doubling consonant when adding suffixes to words even when the final syllable (before the suffix) is not stressed. Compare Canadian (and British) travelled, counselling, and controllable (always doubled in British, more often than not in Canadian) to American traveled, counseling, and controllable (only doubled when stressed). (Both Canadian and British English use balloted and profiting.)

It often seems so haphazard the way Canadians seem to pick and choose which words they use the American spelling for and which words they use the British spelling for. My mom mentioned to me that when she was growing up they taught her in school to spell ‘airplane’ as ‘aeroplane’ which is how they spell it in Britain but I have never ever seen anyone spell it that way here in Canada.

I wonder if it is just a push for Canadians to be able to say they are that much different from their southern neighbors. Yes, I know I spelled neighbors in the US fashion in that last sentence. You may have noticed that I use American spelling pretty much across the board here on this blog. The reason for that is because when I was growing up my elementary and high school didn’t care which we used on spelling tests and in papers as long as we stayed consistent. My other reasons why I stick with American spelling, I think, is because my dad was American and I spent lots of time in the USA growing up so I got used to using American spelling. The second reason I have is because I am a big reader of books and always have been so if you notice most books we get here in Canada use American spelling so I learned a lot of my spelling by absorption of reading books.

Maybe I’m being insulting to Canadians by saying I don’t think that Canadian English is a real version of English in terms of spelling but just look at the Wikipedia article linked above. Do that, and you’ll see how ridiculous the history of Canadian English is. Newspapers didn’t even use Canadian English until relatively recently!

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  1. December 10, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Tyres

    • December 10, 2011 at 6:20 pm

      Also kerb! According to the linked Wikipedia article above, Canadian English’s words for things relating to the auto industry are all heavily influenced by the USA.

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