The other day I banged out a sentence on the ole laptop and paused when my son interrupted my thought process to ask a question. When I returned my attention to the sentence, one word in particular caught my attention. My head tilted as I assessed the word, questioned the spelling. Strangely enough, the obnoxious red squiggles Microsoft Word is so found of hadn’t appeared, so I assumed I’d spelled it correctly. Still, something didn’t look quite right. Or perhaps I should say spot-on.
Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I spelled the word in question, travelling/traveling, as if I was writing for our friends across the pond. I mentioned before in How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words that I’ve been tripped up by the British spelling preferences. Usually, Word catches them. Not so this time.
I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that travelling and traveling are both verbs meaning to go from one place to another, as on a trip or journey. This isn’t a case of a second or third definition. In fact, the two spellings can be used interchangeably. What’s more, what I’m about to tell you applies to travelled/traveled and traveller/traveler.
So what’s the difference, you ask? There isn’t one. Today’s The Weight of Words is another example of British versus American spelling preferences. British writers employ the double L version of the word and American writers go for the single L spelling. No big deal if you’re jotting off a note to someone or a private letter. But if you’re writing a larger work for a particular audience or about Brits or Americans specifically, it might be wise to use a spelling your intended readers will not think is a mistake.
A tidbit of research uncovered the reason behind the differences in spellings:
Each word has its own unique history, but the primary mover and shaker in this transatlantic drama is the nineteenth century American lexicographer Noah Webster, he of dictionary fame. According to “A History of English Spelling” (Manchester University, 2011) by D.G. Scragg, Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is largely responsible for standardizing the accepted spelling of American English.
Before 1828, many words, such as humor (or humour), defense (or defence) and fiber (or fibre), had two acceptable spellings on both sides of the pond, because they were introduced in England via both Latin and French, which used different spellings. Webster picked his preferred forms (the former ones in each example above), justifying his choices in various ways, but partly on nationalist grounds: he wanted American spelling to be distinct from, and (in his opinion) superior to, British spelling.
I can appreciate Mr. Webster’s patriotism, but sometimes I wish he’d chosen another way to express it rather than in different spellings.
Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.livescience.com/33844-british-american-word-spelling.html.