Spelling: -o(u)r

One of the most well-known splits between US and UK spelling is the ending –o(u)r found in colour/color, honour/honor, valour/valor and so on. Whatever your opinion of either spelling, it should be noted that the forms are French and Latin and therefore should probably be taken out of Anglish. However, short of getting rid of every single word in the tongue which has this ending, which may not be possible, we need to face the need to make these forms more English. But how should we do this?

Broadly speaking, –our is French whereas –or is Latin. See the history from http://www.etymonline.com below. The English form for this sound in the position is almost always –er, as in teacher. Now, folk might not want to spell words like “colo(u)r” the logical English way, “culler”, as this Anglish movement is not primarily about spellings. But spellings are a part of the language. And many words simply cannot be taken out of the speech; even Icelandic and German have many outland borrowings. But there is no reason why the outland spelling should stay. Bear in mind that spellings like “onner” (for “hono(u)r”) are attested.

Folk may also complain that –er makes agent nouns (a “teacher” is one who teaches), and so spelling it “culler” might confuse issues with one who culls. But in any case, –er isn’t exclusive for agents, unless “butter” is someone who butts. And indeed, “butter” being one who butts is a perfectly legitimate word — none-the-less, context tells us what we mean.

So how’s this for an Anglish proposal? Where we cannot get rid of –o(u)r words, change the spelling to –er, particularly where the rest of the word doesn’t need changing at all: so maybe maybe not “culler”, but definitely “governer”. 

© 2017-2018 Bryan A. J. Parry

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NOTES

http://etymonline.com/index.php?term=-or&allowed_in_frame=0

-orword-forming element making nouns of quality, state, or condition, from Middle English -our, from Old French -our (Modern French -eur), from Latin -orem (nominative -or), a suffix added to past participle verbal stems. Also in some cases from Latin -atorem (nominative -ator).

In U.S., via Noah Webster, -or is nearly universal (but not in glamour, curious, generous), while in Britain -our is used in most cases (but with many exceptions: author, error, senator, ancestor, horror etc.). The -our form predominated after c. 1300, but Mencken reports that the first three folios of Shakespeare’s plays used both spellings indiscriminately and with equal frequency; only in the Fourth Folio of 1685 does -our become consistent.

A partial revival of -or on the Latin model took place from 16c. (governour began to lose its -u- 16c. and it was gone by 19c.), and also among phonetic spellers in both England and America (John Wesley wrote that -or was “a fashionable impropriety” in England in 1791).

Webster criticized the habit of deleting -u- in -our words in his first speller (“A Grammatical Institute of the English Language,” commonly called the Blue-Black Speller) in 1783. His own deletion of the -u- began with the revision of 1804, and was enshrined in the influential “Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language” (1806), which also established in the U.S. -ic for British -ick and -er for -re, along with many other attempts at reformed spelling which never caught on (such as masheen for machine). His attempt to justify them on the grounds of etymology and the custom of great writers does not hold up.

Fowler notes the British drop the -u- when forming adjectives ending in -orous (humorous) and derivatives in -ation and -ize, in which cases the Latin origin is respected (such as vaporize). When the Americans began to consistently spell it one way, however, the British reflexively hardened their insistence on the other. “The American abolition of -our in such words as honour and favour has probably retarded rather than quickened English progress in the same direction.” [Fowler]

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