Although it is not certain who was the first to describe the USA and the UK as ‘two countries divided by a common language’, there is no doubt they were right when it came to spelling. The many subtle differences mean there are many ways to trip up, and we often see American spellings in British articles, and vice versa.
Take, for example, the difference between ‘s’ spellings and ‘z’ spellings in words such as organisation/organization, realise/realize, patronise/patronize. There is no doubt the ‘z’ is used for US spelling, but in the UK, either ‘s’ or ‘z’ is fine. But there is a further complication – in the case of analyse, catalyse, and any other word ending in ‘yse’, only ‘s’ is acceptable in English – analyze, catalyze, etc. are strictly American.
The use of double ‘l’ is another. Here in the UK we favour double ‘l’ in words such as ‘labelled’, ‘fuelled’ and ‘travelling’, with the Americans going for ‘labeled’, ‘fueled’ and ‘traveling’. But then again, in the US they go for double ‘l’ in words such as ‘appall’, ‘fulfill’ and ‘distill’, where we favour just the one ‘l’ – ‘appal’, ‘fulfil’, ‘distil’.
Of course, we all agree on computer terms – and the American spelling of disk, program and dialog in this context is generally fine in UK English.
And of course there are many other examples…
When writing, and particularly when submitting to journals or magazines, the advice is check whether UK or US English is required and make sure the correct language is set in the word processing application such as Microsoft Word. And even then, as we all should ideally do before submitting any writing, or even sending an email, read it through as a final check.
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