Weekend Word Wrap: British Words/Spellings

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Regarding the coinage contest from last week: I promise to pick 3 winners really, really soon! Just give me a couple days to catch up after jury duty. Meanwhile, there was an interesting article in yesterday's Telegraph on the straightening of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which has been moved 18 centimeters to keep it from collapse. In the article, there were the following words spelled as I spell them here:

centimetre, civilisation realised and tonne

British spellings have always fascinated me and I'll embarrassingly admit to you loyal readers that during a particularly pretentious couple years while in college, I actually used theatre over theater, colour over color and obnoxiously pronounced schedule, shedule. (Give me a break, folks! I was only 19 at the time and having difficulty finding my writer's voice.)
So how is it that we Americans have a bunch of words that are spelled differently than our cousins on the other side of the pond? Easy, English spelling was exactly standardiZED when we won our independence from Britain. It took dictionaries to set the standards on both sides of the Atlantic and, surprise-surprise, our dictionaries and Britain's developed differently. Noah Webster is credited with a lot of our spellings, publishing his first dictionary in the 1820s.

If you're into the differences between "ours" and "theirs" and want to see a pretty cool chart comparing the two, Susan Jones over at Georgia State University has put together one for you here.

As interesting to me as the differences between spellings are the differences between words. For instance, we call the place where you buy nails and hammers a hardware store, while they call it an ironmonger. Yes, I said an IRONMONGER—a word I should have noted a couple weeks ago in my short-list of favorite funny sounding words. Anyone else have a good English word from another country or region in the world that means the same as one commonly used here in the States? Let's hear "˜em!

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June 28, 2007 - 9:44pm
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