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The reorganisation (reorganization) of our written word

By Louise Schaper - posted Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Howdy y’all. I’m wondering how long it will be before this American greeting ritual will replace our colloquial “G’day mate”. It is probably just a matter of time.

Don’t get me wrong - I don’t have a problem with America or American culture: in fact I love Americans. But I also love the English language and how Australians have embraced it; and over time have nurtured and adapted it to make it our own.

But in recent years I have noticed a disturbing trend. At first it was dismissed as a mistake, a human error in accuracy or of the automatic spell-check gone mad. It started off innocently enough. But somehow that innocence has long gone; and I’m left astonished and frustrated. I am of course lamenting the “Americanisation” of our written language.


I don’t blame America for this, or even Mr Gates. In fact I don’t think apportioning blame is the most rational response. Clearly what is needed is a revolution! We need to stop this infiltration before it’s too late - before there are only a handful of Australians left who remember the good ol’ days when organisation was spelt with an “s” not a “z”. When the word “colour” was glorified by the silent and useless “u”; when cheque ceased with a “que” instead of “ck”; and when your car tyre had no need for a “dot the i”.

So how do we start this revolution; this reclamation of our spelling in all its glorious fallibility? I have been thinking about starting a petition for a government decree. How wonderful would it be to see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on the steps of Parliament House announce that anyone caught using a “z” when they should be using a “s” will be sentenced to three years grammar and spelling classes.

Or, my supporters and I could resort to vigilante action - defacing posters, signs in shop windows and newspapers at the library - correcting all spelling errors and stopping them in their wake. We could petition to have students expelled and have teachers, lecturers and editors fired for not upholding the standards of Australian written English. Maybe I’ll write a letter to Mr Gates requesting that the only spell-check available in Australian computer applications is “Australian English”.

I have had personal success in this regard. Every morning I would turn on my computer, which has Google as the homepage. On the top right of the screen Google invited me to “Personalize my Google”. I tried to ignore it, but the obsessive nature of my personality won out and I wrote to Google requesting that they change the spelling to “personalise”. Surprisingly, I never heard back from Google, but a few months later as my drowsy morning eyes attempted to focus on my homepage, I was overjoyed to find that the spelling had been changed and Google, warmly and with an Australian accent, invited me to “Personalise my Google”.

The Google homepage has since changed its design, but I felt great personal satisfaction knowing that I may have been responsible for ensuring that millions of Australians were not forced to see the harsh angles of a “z” but instead could reflect on the smooth curves of the “s”. Glory, fame and adulation did not follow, but it was a triumph in my eyes!

My detractors accuse me of being petty, of being old-fashioned, or (even worse) of being out of touch. But surely I’m not the only one who cares about such things?


I am pleased to report that spelling does matter and despite the noise from the hecklers in the corner, I am not alone in believing so. There are entire books written on the subject. Some studious people have devoted large chunks of their lives to the study of spelling - there are cultural perspectives, historical perspectives and philosophical perspectives on the spelling of words in the English language. I can’t imagine that these authors undertook these endeavours to make some quick cash, improve their success on the dating scene, or to wow dinner party guests with the latest daring adventures of the silent “u”: so they too must believe that the spelling of words is important.

Catherine Soans and Shelia Ferguson, authors of Oxford A-Z of Spelling, state that good spelling is fundamental to making the right impression. Professor Larry Beason, author of Eyes Before Ease argues that spelling is more than just the correct arrangement of letters - it sheds light on the human experience itself, it lets us communicate with other people, it indicates (rightly or wrongly) our intelligence, and also brings us together as a community. D.W. Cummings, in American English Spelling devotes 592 pages to explaining the meaning and reasoning behind why words are spelled as they are.

I know that some would say my protest belongs in a broader discussion about the Americanisation of our culture. I agree that our language is evolving due to the cultural hegemony of America and my appreciation for the growth and evolution of the English language extends (for the most part) to new words, phrases or less formal written English - in the appropriate context. However, while individuals make a conscious decision to wear clothes, listen to music, use words and phrases, and so on, that emanate from our American cousins; I find it hard to believe that individuals change the way they spell words because of the same motivations to adopt American culture.

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About the Author

Louise Schaper is a researcher, writer and consultant with a passion for health informatics - and spelling! Her research and consulting concern people’s responses to new technologies and leveraging technology to support and improve the “business” of healthcare. Louise is also completing a PhD at Curtin University of Technology.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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