Thursday, April 14, 2011

With or Without U

For those of you who haven't noticed, I'm a Canadian gal.  (I was told once that I didn't LOOK Canadian, so I thought I should clarify this.)  I am proud of the fact that I was born and raised in Canada, and I am happy to live in our polite, multicultural, albeit wintry, nation.

But, being a Canadian who travels to and sends written articles to the US, and teaches visiting American students, I am beginning to feel very conflicted.  Not about political differences or economic issues.  No, I am conflicted about the letter U.

You see, even though Canada and the US are joined at the hip geographically, economically, and culturally, there are some subtle, yet oddly profound differences in our languages. And herein lies my struggle.

These differences are as a result of the fact that Canada remained an outpost of the British Empire for much longer than the US did.  Our language and spelling are still influenced by the Queen's English.  There are a lot of little ways this shows itself in my everyday life, but as someone who is sharing fairly specialised information across the border, it is beginning to stress me out.

One big one:  Americans say "zee", Canadians say "zed".  This causes me no end of stress when I am teaching in the US.  I speak casually of inserting zed twist into your yarns, and I am met with blank looks.  Not every time, but often enough to make me feel self-conscious.  So I try very hard to say zee, or translate after I have said zed.  It feels awkward, or rather, I feel awkward.  Especially when someone very kindly informs me that it is okay to say zed, because they know Canadians talk funny.

Then there is "re" versus "er", most notoriously, in my life anyway, in fibre.  Or fiber.  Spellcheck will not acknowledge "fibre", no matter how many times I reset the freakin' preferences.  That little red ziggy line appears every time.  When I typed in a Google search for a fibre source,  I used to get "Did you mean fiber?" (They have fixed that, but it used to bug me.  A lot.)  And the same thing happens when I type theatre, and centre.  I know a lot of people who have given up on "re" and just joined the "er" crowd.  I'm just not ready to go there yet.

But I'm really ready to say goodbye to the superfluous U.  It lurks in words like colour and honour and splendour.  It takes a whole extra keystroke to create, and it makes words look...old-fashioned.  There is a certain visual symmetry to letter-o-letter-o-letter that I prefer.  I'm done with that U, and I merrily type away, ignoring it's existence (and overriding my English (Canadian) Spellcheck setting).  And here lies the crux of my dilemma.

As a linguistically patriotic Canadian, who will not surrender her "re" words, who thinks turning "light" into "lite" is sheer laziness, who says "zed" with pride, how can I justify excluding the Canadian U?  This somehow feels like a betrayal of the language I was raised speaking, or at least writing.   I am often corrected by Canadian editors or web designers when I spell color "wrong".  I am so torn.  But I think that U is a pain in the a**.

Now, I have nothing against U as a general principle.  Without U, a lot of words would become ridiculous.  Who has ever heard of a nicorn, or a nicyle.  And a lot of words would change radically without it.  Our would become or, making possession very ambiguous: our house would become or house.  In fact, without U, it would become or hose.  Totally different.  But color is still a word describing a hue (or a he, without U), just like colour.  An honor is still high praise, even without the U.  There are some places I just don't like seeing that U, places where it just seems unnecessary.

So, as I prepare handouts for SOAR, as I blog, I struggle.  Do I stay consistent with my "pure" Canadian spellings and put that stupid U in there?  Or do I compromise all of my other Canadianisms by leaving it out and spelling the words the way I like them.  Or do I throw caution to the wind and mix and match as I please?  The last is what I want to do, but it smacks of a descent into chaos.  Without consistency, language loses its meaning.

U no wut I mean?


  1. As an American who is registered for your SOAR workshop, I say be yourself. Although we may tease you about zed, most of us have been exposed to it. Same if you spell color as colour or fiber as fibre. We can handle it.

  2. Absolootely... : )

  3. You can't bake a cake with flower...

  4. I love my U! It makes my words look so right. It's part of being Canadian and I don't mind the extra keystroke. It is just one little letter, which makes my written words look like they've come from My country. To me, without it, they look so wrong. As a kid, in primary school, I fought to be able to use the "Canadian" spellings when the teacher insisted we use U.S spellings and textbooks. I'm not giving it up now.

  5. I vote for keeping the 'u'. It helps keep our Canadian identity, but at the same time I say do what feels right to you.