US vs. Canadian Spelling: Why is There a Difference?

us vs. canadian spellingFavorite vs. favourite. Color vs. colour. Neighborhood vs. neighbourhood. We’re speaking the same language. Yet until certain words come up, you wouldn’t know which side of the pond they were written on. Why do these differences exist when we’re all English speakers? As if this elusive language didn’t have enough exceptions and nuances to confuse us.

We’ve discussed some of the differences between common US/Canadian spelling distinctions, but let’s talk about why that’s the case. We’ll end off with which one is ultimately better (you can probably guess what our stance is).

Before any standardization of spelling was made official, the spelling of some of these words was fairly loose and interchangeable. That is, until 1755 when Samuel Johnson wrote “A Dictionary of the English Language” to solidify the British (and Canadian) way of doing things. Nearly a decade later, Americans started to follow Noah Webster’s “An American Dictionary of the English Language” in 1828. After the birth of the published documents that wrote the law on language, these distinctions became more widely separated.

Many of the -our/-or spelling distinctions, for example, originate from old French spelling where the U is predominantly used and from Latin where the U is dropped. Webster was more of a stickler for standardizing and following rules, which is why he dropped all the Us in American English. Johnson, on the other hand, cared more for what made the most sense for each given word, whether the origin was Latin or French. And that brings us to our last point.

Based solely on the principle of what came first (almost 100 years sooner, to be exact), Canadian English is the winner in our books. It also greatly outnumbers US English usage (which is limited only to the US), whereas all other English-speaking countries use the better version. Canadian English is in favour of pronunciation, therein adding a level of ease to this already complex language. And finally, it considers what makes the most sense for each word, not discriminating against origin (much like the multicultural country itself).

So no matter how much red underlining we see under our colourful French ancestors, we’ll always be in favour of the better spelling.