Annoyed by Pretentious Spellings and Sayings? You're Not Alone

Jun 22, 2016

Using an unusual spelling of a word or a fancy French saying may seem like an easy way to sound elegant, but in reality the roots of the words or sayings are not what you think they are. 

On this episode of Talk of Iowa host Charity Nebbe talks with English language expert Patricia O’Conner about pretentious spellings and pronunciations. O'Conner is the author of Woe is I and writes on grammar blog, Grammarphobia

Many businesses or people may chose to use the so-called British spelling of words to seem more  formal, but the roots of these words are often not from old English, or even old at all.

"The change from RE spellings to ER spellings happened in Britain mostly between 1720 and 1750. This was after the American colonies were established. So the colonists brought with them the older ER spelling," said O'Conner. "This is why you see in British English spellings ending in RE for words like centre, fibre, lustre, and why you find OUR spellings in words like colour, honour, and neighbour, while Americans kept the older spellings."

When the colonists came to America they kept the spellings used in Britain at the time. Many of the spellings commonly called the "old English" spellings came after America was settled. 

For example the word shoppe was not used in old English at all. 

"This shoppe did not exist in old English. In Anglo-Saxon times the word was spelled schopa, it sounded like schopa it was spelled S-C-E-O-P-P-A but it was rarely used. In fact there's only one instance of it in all of old English writing, only one." said O'Conner "... The word didn't show up again until the late 13th and early 14th centuries and it was spelled many many different ways because spelling wasn't standardized. But mostly it was spelled S-H-O-P." 

The English language is a very adaptive ever-changing. During this hour of Talk of Iowa, O'Conner talks about how common words and phrases have changed over time and clarifies some common misperceptions about the English language.