Does English need colour and glamour?

Color Abstract

For that matter, does English need favour, honour, flavour, savour and so many more -our words? Before our Australian, British and Canadian fellow English speakers panic – relax. This is just a point of discussion. From the standpoint of communication, it does seem that color, glamor, favor, flavor, honor and savor are satisfactory. Yes, these are the American spellings, but please note, US English generally prefers glamour. Thus the US -our/-or spellings are also not clearly defined.

Moreover, outside the US, the spellings are honourable but honorary (not honourary) so English in the UK is equally inconsistent. I must confess that I am a bit OCD and this type of untidiness is somewhat unnerving. While it is not going to end world hunger or solve world peace, I can’t help but ask whether we can come to some agreement on the lack of consistency and find some common ground. To add to this situation, some derivations of these words have already begun to lose the extra “u“ in the UK spelling. Note that the derivations of glamour and humour in the UK are glamorous and humorous, respectively. The combination of –our plus –ous appears to be a bit too much for all English speakers.

Noah Webster is basically responsible for many of the reforms in English spellings such as color ~ colour, center ~ centre and defense ~ defence. There has not been a real reform since then, in the early 1800’s, so it may be time to rethink some of these inconsistencies and redundancies. One argument for a reform is economic: producing text in all varieties of English can be very expensive.

Clearly there is a good argument for retaining the cultural flavo(u)r and historical development. English is richer for these details. Therefore I would like to ask you, do we really need “u” in our “our” words, or will “or” suffice for communicating on a worldwide basis?

Our native language is a very personal and emotional subject; language is identity. We all want to keep our individual identity and cultural perspectives. To quote a great observer of human nature on tradition and innovation:

An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven’t been done before. Mark Twain

And never the twain shall meet…

Two, or more, ways to spell many words.
Two, or more, ways to spell many words.

Here we see two different ways to spell the same word, but let’s hope the different spellings don’t meet … at least not in the same paragraph, or even in the same document for that matter!

Speaking of twain (archaic for two), consider Mark Twain who expressed his disdain for editors, often and strongly. He is acknowledged as saying “…he must have little genius who can’t spell a word in more than one way.” Actually this quote has had many incarnations including something about a writer who can only think of one way to spell a word lacks imagination. Or he who cannot spell a word more than one way cannot be trusted. Or he [Twain] had no respect for someone who cannot spell a word more than one way.

Twain does make a valid point; variation enriches language. But variation of this type can confuse and irritate the reader. When we write, we help our readers by maintaining consistency. Variation can be added with synonyms: same meaning, different words, not the same word, different spellings.

Mark Twain had strong opinions and great insight. As a writer and human. Variation in our writing is desirable for novels and creative works. Blogs … tweets … emails … notes … letters … personal communication. Language is so much richer for the variation and nuances we use.

But to disseminate – spread – information fluently and with ease, one standard would serve us well.  Consider efficiency and speed. Beyond literature and reading for enjoyment, our time is limited … business reports, technical manuals, trade journals, academic manuscripts and daily newspapers should not challenge us to read and reread the same sentence again and again.

On a global level, to communicate a message clearly, a unified, logical, systematic form of English is desirable. In plain English. It is much more difficult to write precise, accurate text than long-winded ramblings where the writer is clearly lost. What can we expect of the reader then.

When we write to communicate information, consider these points: write concisely … write clearly … write short sentences … use short words. Except for blogs where we can have some fun breaking the rules and enjoy the ambiguity and double-entendre English is so full of. (There. I broke a rule … broke quite a few, in fact!)

Plain English. One English. Please.