Canadians: The Bisexuals of Orthography


The title sounds a lot more salacious than it really is, mostly because many people have no idea what orthography means. To put it another way, Canadians swing both ways when it comes to spelling.

As someone who writes and edits for a living, I like to think I spell pretty goodly, but one thing that’s fascinated me for a while is our spelling here in the Great White North. Most Canadians (I think) – even most Americans – know that we have two official languages in Canada, English and French. What most Canadians – and about zero Americans – know is that we play for both teams when it comes to putting our words together good and proper.

How so, the reader asks? Even though we officially use British spelling in schools and in government/media, we’re all a bunch of swingers, constantly oscillating between British and American spelling without even realizing it.

(Interestingly, I can’t think of any common words we actually use from the Brits – flat for us is the opposite of round; lorry is a girl’s name; and lift is about pulling something/someone up.)

For example, we write grey, colour, and cheque, all of which are British spelling. However, we also write memorize, math (not maths), and categorize, all of which are American spelling. And somewhere in between those two areas we have grey/gray ones, like the word travel as a gerund. Some Canadians, not knowing the difference, will write “traveling” (American), while others will write “travelling” (British). And because so many people’s Word Spell Check function is set to American, we in Canada get pinched for our own damn spelling most of the time!

This really struck me this morning while reading the Star. A Canadian journalist was quoting a Canadian citizen who’d said he had to “memorise” something. After the word memorise (British spelling), the writer wrote “[sic],” as in the citizen made a spelling mistake.

The lesson I take out of this is that, aside from being wildly experimental in the spelling arena, Canada really does have its own spelling system, a mish-mash of the Brits and the Yanks. The funny part, however, is that we don’t even realize this trait as Canadians.

Ha ha ha….ha ha………..ha (Is this thing on?)

Orthography is funny. Blondes, as they, may have more fun, but Canadians have waaaaay more fun doing spelling bees because we can nail you on both ends. Wait. That didn’t come out right. We can go north or south with our words. Doh! One last attempt: We can spell both ways, seamlessly going back and forth with the grace of a dolphin cutting through water. Yeah, that’s a good analogy. Spot on the money!



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2 responses to “Canadians: The Bisexuals of Orthography

  1. The Count Gustaf

    “swing both ways” *when it comes to spelling* HAHAHA

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