Is it Spelled or Spelt? — 43 Comments

  1. As a Brit who reads a lot of JAFF mostly by US authors I can honestly say US spellings don’t annoy me but using non regency words or phrases does. I worked abroad for many years in an international school which followed a UK curriculum but we decided that to try and change how different countries spelt words was wrong, it was more important to recognise that there are many correct ways to spell the same word, what was important was their meaning and using them in the correct context.

    • I have been blessed with very good reviews for the most part, but there are a few at Amazon UK that have used the label “American” as a term of disparagement for my efforts. I wish everyone was as accepting as you, Debra! Accuracy is a good thing, but I hope what shines through most is my love and respect for JA.

  2. Very interesting, Shannon. I grew up in Canada, and we often used the English spellings, but just as often, adopted the “Americanized” spellings. Keeping things straight was pretty hard – and for me, when I moved to the US, it became even harder. Now I hardly know whether I have a driver’s licence or license, nor how to programme my gps to get to the theatre…. I remember taking college courses in communications, in which we had to learn that the new thing was “color” TV, while children still loved “colouring” books. Fun!

  3. I am also a Brit who regularly reads JAFF and the spellings don’t annoy me, however at times I find that the use of Americanism’s can detract from the story as my expectation is that they would be written with a nod to the work of Miss Austen. I am personally most annoyed by the use of ‘gotten’, this is a word we would not normally use.

    • I certainly try to be as faithful as possible to Jane Austen’s legacy and style, Marrie. I think the problem is that, as an American, I don’t necessarily know when something is an Americanism unless a non-American points it out. To me, it sounds normal; to you it stands out as foreign. So unless I check each and EVERY word/phrase I write against JA canon, I’m bound to make mistakes. I think I’ve managed to avoid the “gotten” pitfall, though. Thank you for contributing to the discussion. I’m enjoying it!

  4. Having worked for seven years for a multinational company, I thought I knew the differences, but no apparently. Do the brits actually write “spelt”? So now you have me confused. And what about Australians? But then I am only a French woman. Take heart as your fate could have been worst: you could have been born in a French speaking country and French is hardly ever spelt (or spelled?) as it sounds. And grammar is a labyrinth of complications. Even an electronic device cannot understand all the intricacies of French grammar. However we seem to love our complications, and would not reform our language for the entire world. Thank you for this interesting article.

    • Natalie if you read my comment above you will see that we Brits really do use the word spelt! If I see spelled, I think of a witch’s spell…;)

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Nathalie! Yes, they do use “spelt,” as Debra Perrin has confirmed for us. Another Canadian reader below comments that they follow the British spellings, for the most part, as I’m guessing do the Australians, having more longstanding ties to England than the US.

      And don’t get me started on French! I took 2 years of the language back in school. Loved the sound of it; hated the grammar. Why does every object in the world have to be either masculine or feminine? Haha! Although I know English is difficult too, at least we don’t have that complication. 🙂

  5. I must admit that, as I am German and English is not my mother tongue, the differences between English and American spelling are very much confusing, particularly because Germans learn “Queens English” at school. Therefore, when I started to read American books I thought “What a lot of typos!”. However, I´ve got used to the differences when I read but I still prefer the English spelling when I write. As long as the Americans understand English spelling and vice versa all is well but one should stick to the choice one made initially and don´t mix both spellings. Nevertheless, I think it is suitable to use English spelling for a book like yours. In general, I think correct spelling is absolutely necessary, be it English or German or any other language.
    Thank you for your interesting article!

    • “As long as Americans understand English spelling and vice versa, all is well.” I agree, Dorothee. Maybe it’s because I’m not particularly good at spelling myself, but I read right through the British English spellings without hardly noticing them.

  6. I too am a Brit and read a lot of JAFF and US spellings really irritate me. Jane Austen was British so i think JAFF authors should use British terminology and spellings when writing and definitely refrain from using non regency phrases!! Just my opinion but i am v grateful to the JAFF authors who write wonderful books. Yes it is definitely spelt never spelled!

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle. I wish there was a switch on my computer that I could flip so that I could change to accurate Jane-Austen-speak at will. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. It just occurred to me. I wonder if British authors writing about American characters in American settings wrestle with the same issue.

  7. I feel that spelling matter be it German, US or UK English, or any other language. Whichever terminology used the spelling is out what counts and using regency terminology. Since the Persuasion of Jane Austen was written by Jane I too feel being as authentic by trying to be true to the word usage and spelling of her time. I found that made the story really feel as if Jane was writing about her own life. I adore this book, Shannon.

  8. Today’s topic is a timely one for me; and I apologise/apologize for being long-winded. Currently in the process of having a novella edited, I’ve been discussing the subject of spelling with my editors.

    As a Canadian, I’m often torn between UK and US spelling. Color, for me, has a ‘u’ and harbor is harbour (except in instances of American proper place names, like Pearl Harbor). I work in a music Lesson Centre, not Center; and I go to the theatre, not theater. However, I’m guilty of spelling cozy the same way as my neighbours to the south rather than the British cosy; and I just realised I’ve unconsciously been using ‘z’ (pronounced ‘zed’ not ‘zee’) in words such as recognise and memorise. Obviously, my writing is a mishmash of both US and UK versions. Fie upon you, Mr. Webster! (Thanks, Shannon. I didn’t know whom to blame.)

    Should JAFF authors agonise/agonize over UK vs. US spelling? Is it an offence/offense to say Elizabeth is her father’s favorite daughter and leave ‘u’ out? That, I suppose, depends on when and where the story takes place — Regency England or modern-day USA. Perhaps our books should include spelling disclaimers.

    To anglicise or not to anglicize? That is the bedeviling/bedevilling question.

    • I think your idea of a disclaimer is brilliant, Joanne! What is that label we see on some handcrafted items? Something like this.

      “This is a unique, lovingly produced handcrafted item. Any irregularities of texture or pattern are not be considered flaws but rather part of the natural beauty of the piece.”

      Throw in spelling and grammar and that would about do for me!

    • I am also a Canadian, but I was raised in the US, except for a year in the UK when I was ten. Plus I read a lot of British books. So I agonize all the time over which spelling to use. Spell-check offers me a choice of US or UK, but no Canadian, so I tend to compromise my principles to appease it.
      It does bother me that JAFF tends to use US spellings, but that’s not as bad as when they use words or expressions that are strictly US. I console myself that at least so far I haven’t seen any JAFF where the mother is called, “Mommy”.

  9. I am American, with strong obsessions to the English accuracies to JAFF interests. However, my greater concerns with the Jane followers, and those within many other online genres, is accurate word selection. The number of writers who use “reign” where “rein” is accurate, and vice versa, send me up a tree. Please check out your word selection! Obamacare is not feeling very generous to the grammatically challenged. While we are at it, unless humans are being consumed, one invites people “to” dinner, not “for” it. Thank you!

    • Oh, my! I’d hate to think that, by my errors, I might be responsible for sending a nice person up a tree! Haha! Sounds uncomfortable. On behalf of authors everywhere, Katherine, I humbly apologize.

  10. I am continually puzzled by the way English-speaking people, on either side of the Atlantic, use the alphabet. Webster may have simplified things to a degree, but, as you say, didn’t go nearly far enough.

    Why do we need a “gh” or a “ph” when we’ve already got a perfectly good “f’?” What’s up with that? Was poor old “f'” overworked?

    How about the letter “c” which seems to serve no purpose other than as a back-up “k” or a back-up “s?” The only sound it makes that is unique to “c” is the sound that comes at the beginning and the end of “church,” and for that it needs a an “h.” And it needs an “e” or an “i” to make the “s” sound. The “s” could make that sound all by itself,leaving “e” and “i” free to conentrate on making their own vowel sounds, instead of pulling double duty by helpin “c” to sound like “s.” “Q” is nothing but “k” with a “w” added. Why “quite” instead of “kwite” or “quell” instead of kwell?” An on top of that the letter “q” is useless without a “u.” Then there’s words like “back” and “truck.” What’s the deal there? Didn’t figure “c” had enough strength to make the “k” sound without a “k” there to bolster it up? Are we supposed to infer that the “k” sound is particularly emphatic if it’s preceded by a “c?”

    Are other languages so idiosyncratic in their spelling?

    • Haha! I’ve had many of these same perplexing thoughts/questions myself, Jim, especially about the letter “c.” I would assign it the sound currently made by “ch” as in “church” (which would become “curc”), because you’re right; it serves no necessary purpose otherwise. I like your idea of replacing “q” with “kw” as well.

  11. However the author chooses to write, I think it needs to be consistent throughout a novel. If one chooses to use standard U.S. spellings, please don’t throw a random “ou” word like “honour” out there. And I agree with comments above, please use “period” language.

    Btw, love your books, Shannon! I own them all in both ebook and print. 5 stars

  12. I know spelling is important but to be honest if I am enjoying the story and the words make sense I hardly notice mistakes. I’m just so pleased that people from other countries are inspired to write P&P variations that I would rather praise them for an excellent story than point out spelling mistakes.

    • What a wonderful attitude, Glynis! It would be a pity to let minor errors or alternate spellings spoil your enjoyment. 🙂

  13. I realize that there are many ways to spell a word, depending on where you are from (I am Canadian), but blatant misspellings and misuse of words really bother me.

    • I guess the key word here is “blatant.” I know I make errors, no matter how careful I try to be, but I hope nothing too egregious gets through to publication. Thanks for your comment, Wendy!

  14. The spelling goes right past me. The time period incongruities are the things that catch my attention. I will zoom right over American/UK spellings of words. To me, it means the same, I know what’s being said, no crying over spilt milk. LOL Now, if the book is poorly edited and the misspellings are genuine (not just language), I have difficulty getting past them and finishing the book. Fortunately, that’s been rare.

    I am with you though, I wish they had pared the language down just a touch more. The “F” would be a more oft used letter and maybe we wouldn’t have multiple spellings of one word (to two too, etc). Is it any wonder I’ve had difficulty learning another language? LOL

    • Very true, Stephanie. I have actually given the idea (spelling/language reform) a lot of thought, even though I know it won’t ever happen (entirely too monumental a task to undertake). If each letter only made one sound and all words were spelled/spelt the way they sounded, we would need more letters, mostly vowels, as I said above. But “blends” would also have to go, which theoretically would change both our names – no more ph or sh or th, etc. I don’t think people would ever agree to “reforming” their names for the greater good. Do you? Haha!

      • Well, the “ph” part of my name gets swapped for an “f” or even “ff” quite often, so I would be used to that. LOL

  15. Hmmmm – not sure why my comment is still “awaiting moderation” – I’ll try not to take it personally. I, too, rankle at the wrong word being used – reign/rein being cited. Every author’s best friend is her proof-reader! Spell check just won’t cut it for so much. But trying to use only Regency terms must be maddening! And there are many (a great many it seems to me) that seem like they’re more modern, but were actually in usage in Regency times, so I don’t really trust that we can tell what’s right or wrong without a couple of years of study under our belts. As for spelling things the English way when writing JAFF, I think that, too, is a hare’s nest of problems. How could we be sure we’d used everything correctly? And that we’d caught each and every instance in which there was a different spelling. Not to mention, a different usage. “While” is a perfectly good word in both American and English writing – but there’s a subtle difference. In England you might while away an afternoon, but whilst you do it, you must be sure you are using the word correctly. How are we to be sure we know all that? The only way is to undo all our learning thus far.

    I have a few wonderful, articulate friends, who write very well, but can’t spell to save their lives. They are the product of an education system that decided their egos were more important than accuracy in spelling (in any form of English). Are they not to open their mouths? Again – a good proof-reader can be worth her weight in gold (whether that weight is in pounds or stone).

    All in all – what I’m looking for is a good story well told. I don’t notice which form of words are used because I’m so used to both. A good writer is a good writer, and you, Shannon, are a good writer! The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen is a very favorite of mine!

    • I appreciate the lovely compliment, Julie, and I’m so pleased TPMJA enjoys a place of honor on your bookshelf (real or virtual)!

      You’re exactly right. Unless one invests years to become an expert at these things (spelling variations, Regency terminology, etc), there are bound to be mistakes. But that doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth telling/reading.

      — PS– I approved your earlier comment yesterday (shows somewhere above). Don’t know why it went to moderation unless you’ve never left a comment at this site before.

  16. As a Brit and a teacher I can read JAFF and accept American spellings from American authors but the two things I do find I stumble over are the use of the word “fall” instead of autumn when the setting is contemporary to Jane Austen and “the holidays” instead of Christmas. Still doesn’t stop me from reading them though and I would never use it against an author in a review.

  17. Guilty as charged, Hazel, as to using “fall” instead of “autumn” in my first novel (The Darcys of Pemberley). I didn’t know back then, when I wrote it, I swear! (I just did a little mia culpa on the topic on my blog, if you’d care to read it: ).

    As to using “the holidays” instead of “Christmas,” I would consider it more of a “political-correctness” term here in the US, or else it will often be used to denote the entire season, Thanksgiving (not a holiday celebrated in the UK) at the end of November all the way through New Years. The other problem with the word “holiday” is Americans use it for special days set aside to celebrate: Easter, Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, etc. Whereas I believe it has more of the meaning of “vacation” to Brits. You go “on holiday.” We go “on vacation.” Just one more opportunity for miscommunication! 🙂

  18. One thought occurred to me today after I first read your post, Shannon. If you use a word processor to draft your writing, what language do you have as your default? If it’s set to US English, then the US spellings won’t be picked up by the spell checker. If you set it to UK English, it’ll probably pick up the US spellings. I’m a Brit and am/have been a beta for four US JAFF authors and my version of Word used to go crazy with all the US spellings when I’m proofreading/spotting for Americanisms. I don’t want to change to US English as my default as I use Word for other purposes as well, so I’ve added all the US spellings to the inbuilt dictionary.

    As a beta and JAFF addict, I’ve got (not gotten!) used to US spellings but it’s US terms and non-Regency language that tend to pull me out of a story. “Fall”, as mentioned earlier is one, characters travelling (with a double l) a number of “blocks” in London from one location to another, the term “OK” in dialogue, I could go on quite a lot further. Oh and “different than” is a personal pet hate!

    An old teacher of mine, who taught me English Language and English Literature always said that our two countries were “divided by a common language”. One thing I’ve discovered since starting as a beta is that words have entered US English as a result of people emigrating from continental Europe direct to the US, so they’ve never had a chance to become part of UK English. Etymology is a fascinating subject, isn’t it?

    Even your reply to Hazel’s comment shows a difference in word use. We Brits never add an ‘s’ to New Year. I’ve also noticed that folk from the US often use the word “on” instead of “at” when referring to a holiday time like Christmas, and “that” instead of “who” when referring to a person or group of people.

    Finally, having waffled on for far too long, I’d like to say how much I enjoyed The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen. Just wish it was a true story!

    • Who says it’s not true, Anji? I choose to believe that’s what happened! Anyway, so glad you enjoyed TPMJA – not as popular as my P&P sequels, but I think it’s my best to date. 🙂

      I’m not sure if my word processing program offers UK English as the default, but it’s worth a look. It’s old and I’m not all that computer savvy, so I have to get along as well as I can.

      Yes, I’ve heard the “divided by a common language” quote before – a lot of truth to it! New Years is short for New Year’s Day. “On Christmas” is short for “on Christmas Day.” “At Christmas” would imply more than one day to us, in the sense of during the Christmas season. “People that” is a very common grammatical error on this side of the pond. I won’t attempt any excuse for that one!

      Thanks for your contribution to the discussion, Anji!

  19. Just to add my “tuppence” worth. I am a Brit born and bred, but have lived in Vancouver, Canada for the past 40 plus years. I am fascinated by the three English languages I still wrestle with: US English, Brit English and then the rather fluid and idiosyncratic Canadian English. I travel back to the UK very often and find I am constantly making my brain work to use the right vernacular so that I don’t upset English people, or make myself incomprehensible to North Americans. One term which I think is a real mine-field, and I see it used a lot on UK home shows. The word “homely’ in Brit. English is a complimentary term, whereas it is a pejorative in North America. The Brit version equates to “cosy” or “comfortable”. You can imagine how many confusions arise over this particular word. (And now that pesky spellcheck is challenging how I spelt “cosy” – an so the challenge goes on…)

  20. Don’t forget the Aussies! I bet they have their own variations on the language. Yes, I was jarred when I first heard the Brit use of “homely,” but it makes perfect sense. Thanks for adding your tuppence worth, Joan!

  21. I was reminded of yet another ambiguous usage that often crops up. Yesterday, when having our annual JASNA birthday meeting, we were reading the opening paragraphs of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen. Tomalin used the word “outhouses”. In the UK this merely means any kind of outbuilding, generally brick or missionary as opposed to wooden constructions which would either be a shed (small structure) or a barn (very large). Most certainly an outhouse does not specifically mean “a privy”. I still find I can confuse non-Brits with the careless mis-use of the term outhouse, and so try to avoid it. So back to yesterday: I imagine that half our audience would not have realized that Tomalin was being quite general and not implying that the Austen’s had several outdoor loos!

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