07 February 2012

-iz- is not American

Contrary to widely held belief, the choice in English between -is- and -iz- spellings is not simply a choice between American and British (and Commonwealth) preferences.

For more, read what Jonathan Calder has to say on his Liberal England blog under the heading -ize and -ization do not come from America (date: Monday, February 06, 2012).

If a customer asks, I give them a choice between three spelling systems: "-iz- American", "Oxford" (with -iz- and -is- as per Oxford dictionaries) or "standard British" (with -is-). It is interesting to note that these options do not appear to have specific names in wide use, which is a minor problem in itself.

Despite the excellent points made by Calder and others, perceptions are also important. Given that the vast majority of people believe that -iz = US and -is = British, this is a real issue for anyone wishing to use spelling as a flag as to origin. I believe that this is the main reason why most British newspapers use -is- and it is also the main reason that I advise European companies producing English-language documents that they wish to flag as specifically European (i.e. not American) to do the same.

My own default option for European companies requesting into-English translations is thus -is-.

Another challenge is that most spell-checking dictionaries do not offer these choices. (I never been able to fathom why the publishers of Oxford dictionaries never failed to market a spell-checking dictionary offering their own preferred spellings. If you find one, do let me know.)

Update (27 May 2014)
I have just discovered an exhaustive site (and rant) on this topic called
The ‘-ize’ have it!
on the Metadyne website by Mike Horne.
It's an excellent read and I agree with every word, despite the special case I make above as a Europe-based into-English translator attempting, on my clients' behalf, to wave a tiny flag that those less well informed than Calder and Horne (which is to say the vast majority of readers), will identify, in the unlikely event that they reflect on the issue for even a moment, as either British or vaguely 'European', which is to say, of course, non-American. There! I've stated my case once again, for what it's worth. I also take this opportunity to point out once again the great irony, despite the implacable logic of writers like Calder and Horne, that there is, as far as I'm aware, no reliable spell-checker dictionary reflecting their preferred choices. (If there were, I think I'd change my mind as quick as wink.)

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