Color vs. Colour - The Great Spelling Battle

Color vs. Colour - The Great Spelling Battle

It's been asked innumerable times: What's the deal with using "colour" in some places of this site and "color" in others? To us, it is the same idea and the same love we're sharing... just with different ways of spelling it. But for those who want more of an explanation, here is some history of the word and why we use both spellings.

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The History of Word

The origin of the word 'colour' is in Middle English (developed into Modern English in 16th Century), which actually borrows from Anglo-Norman French in this case. 'Colour' has many definitions and uses (About nine, and then a tonne of little bullets). Somewhere between colonisation, revolution, and the Industrial Revolution, the English language had no central regulation. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is the source of most of the current British spellings, but American English became somewhat simplified in spelling during the times between this book's publication and Noah Webster and his An American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828. Webster was a large part in changing the spelling of the language because of his philosophies and strong nationalism. What would've been seen then as the "correct" spellings have been listed as variants, and still are today.

So, the unstressed -our (favour, flavour, colour, savour) became -or (favor, flavor, color, savor), the few -re endings in British spelling (centre, metre, litre, manoeuvre) became -er (center, meter, liter, maneuver), and -ce (defence, offence, pretence) became -se (defense, offense, pretense). Because of wide usage in both countries and acceptance onto the pedastal of dictionaries, both spellings are accepted today, though it seems that "when in Rome" follows. And Canada got caught in the middle of it all, using mostly British spellings with some American leaking in.

American & British Flags

Tung or Tounge, Ruf or Rough, Batl or Battle...

In 1878 a committee of American philologists began preparing a list of proposed new spellings, and two years later the Philological Society of England joined in the work. In 1883 a joint manifesto was issued, recommending various general simplifications. Among those enlisted in the movement were Charles Darwin, Lord Tennyson, Sir John Lubbock and Sir J. A. H. Murray. In 1886 the American Philological Association issued independently a list of recommendations affecting about 3,500 words, and falling under ten headings. Practically all of the changes proposed had been put forward 80 years before by Webster, and some of them had entered into unquestioned American usage in the meantime, e. g., the deletion of the u from the -our words, the substitution of er for re at the end of words, and the reduction of traveller to traveler.

The trouble with the others was that they were either too uncouth to be adopted without a long struggle or likely to cause errors in pronunciation. To the first class belonged tung for tounge, ruf for rough, batl for battle and abuv for above, and to the second such forms as cach for catch and troble for trouble.


Then, in 1906, came the organization of the Simplified Spelling Board, with an endowment of $15,000 a year from Andrew Carnegie, and a formidable list of members and collaborators, including Henry Bradley, F. I. Furnivall, C. H> Grandgent, W. W. Skeat, T. R. Lounsbury and F. A. March. The board at once issued a list of 300 revised spellings, new and old, and in August, 1906, President Roosevelt ordered their adoption by the Government Printing Office.
H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

US cartoon 1906 about Roosevelt's simplified spelling
US cartoon from 1906 about Roosevelt's simplified spelling

Technologies Influence on Spelling

Google Color Search Results.
The internet is an international experience, but a large number of the biggest internet companies are American: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL... These top search engines don't treat the different spelling of color as the same word, ie. A Search for color won't give you a site with the word spelled with a "u." A search for colour won't give you sites with the American spelling.

When we first created COLOURlovers we used the British spelling throughout the site... but overtime we realized we were being penalized by the search engines, so we switched over to using the American spelling. Since we have an international audience of members and writers, they use their preferred spelling of the words so we loosely switch between the two. As we build out our language feature to allow COLOURlovers to be read in German, French, Japanese Etc. We've playfully been considering having American and British options because people seem to be so heated in their preference of the spelling.

A Google search for Colour does not return a "Did you mean" result.

One Color Got Caught in the Fight

Out of all our color names, one got caught up in the American-British spelling wars... Grey became the established British spelling in the 20th century, and is but a minor variant in American English, according to dictionaries. Canadians tend to prefer grey. Some suggest that American writers tend to assign wistful, positive connotations to grey, as in "a grey fog hung over the skyline", whereas gray often carries connotations of drabness, "a gray, gloomy day."

Color, Colour, Couleur, Colore... How Do You Say It?

Color lovers come from all over the world, so what spelling of the word do you use?

No matter how you spell the word, every project needs a little color. Check out Creative Market for awesome downloads for use today.

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Showing 1 - 30 of 53 Comments
"Farbe". Theese strange germans ;)
'ou', 're' and Earl GREY - have more elegance to them

Why do Americans always insist on shortcuts?
colOUr makes me feel so much more sophisticated
When in doubt, use colo(u)r.

Don't you know the Queen's English?

No, is she?
Why do Americans always insist on shortcuts?
If you come to a fork in the road, take it. -Yogi Berra

(He lived at the end of a circle. You could go either way.
I say colour. And I think "grey" looks classier. I still have no idea whether I'm supposed to spell it "licence" or "license". Darn this getting caught in the middle (I won't even get into how I pay for sliced meat by the gram and hamburger by the pound).

This is a very interesting article - I especially liked the bit about grey/gray perception.
Midatlantic Battle
I was brought up with the British/Canadian spellings for such words as "colour", "theatre", "amoeba", and suchlike; if we'd spelled them in the American manner, we would have been corrected. We use some American spellings, such as "spelled" (rather than British "spelt"), but in other cases prefer the British spellings such as "leapt" (versus American "leaped"). There really isn't any standard, and it wouldn't surprise me if more and more people are using the American spellings. As Ruecian says, Canada has always been caught in the middle.
i'm american, and yet i spell everything (or most everything) the british/canadian way. and microsoft word HATES me for it; it's really getting a bit annoying. should we start a petition? haha, kidding. oh, that and: what's up with "hanged"? shouldn't it be, "hung"? just curious...
One of the first reasons that I was drawn to this site was the our spelling (my being Canadian). I find it slightly (ahem) arrogant that a nation can decide to respell already existing words.
I never realized the difference with -ense and -ence! As tenkerasu mentioned, that must be why I always think I'm spelling it wrong with spell check :)

And just to clear this up, hanged is used when you refere to someone hanging themselves. Hung is used everywhere else. I tried to look up the history of this one and can't seem to get any explanation as to why this is. I think I heard somewhere that hanged implies a momentary action and hung implies a continuous action.
@reverbe: Agreed about a classier spelling. I'm full american, and I spell "grey."

"Colour" reads like I should say "kuh-loor" rather than "kuh-ler."
"Culoare" a beautiful, warm, latin word we use here in Romania. As for myself I always see in text fields the word "colour" highlighted with red as a typo.
The same in this one.
Nevertheless, I keep using it, it's stuck to my mind this way.
"Colour" reads like I should say "kuh-loor" rather than "kuh-ler."

To those who use an American accent it may, but to the English, 'colour' sounds like 'kuh-ler' much like 'harbour' sounds as 'har-ber' and 'ardour' sounds as 'ar-der.' It is just a matter of different pronunciation!

Having so many of the 'original' English words highlighted in error when you're on the web/using a spell-checker is a source of constant irritation to me.
Hey nationalistic British fucktards! You've lost a member of your site - and I'm someone you didn't want to lose. All because of your pedantic whining over colour (sic).
Hey OoogeyBoogey re:"You've lost a member of your site - and I'm someone you didn't want to lose. " thank you for one of the funniest posts I have seen in a while, I'll treasure it.

'färg' in swedish, pronounced something like this; faerj
I'm English and I'm in England... I love the way we spell things, especially when it's confusing. It may sound silly but I instantly warmed to this site because of the 'U.' There's something very British about being pedantic, and there's something sophisticated about chosing the antiquated but interesting over the modern and convenient.

Having said that... Microsoft Word; stop punishing me! I have changed every possible setting to UK English and still you spite me with ugly red lines?!
In Polish it's "kolor".
I've been learning British English for quite some time, and I spell "colour".
I don't like American tendency towards simplifying everything.

Now, how would you spell plural form of "antenna"?
I think it's safe to say most anything goes, especially when the local pronounciation is more often than not "kulur"
I dont know. Spelling is weird, and languages change.
From my point of view, it is English, both the British and American kind, that is erasing the diversity languages in my country. But at the same time, the beauty of it is that the colonized take the colonizers culture and subtly change it to become a crazy hybrid that has its own unique style.

It is essential to recognize that the internet (and other technology like spell checks etc) are not neutral.

Languages change according to circumstances. There is no pure or correct form.
I am American but I prefer and adore British\Canadian spelling. Yes, proper English. My girlfriend is a English major\bi-lingual teacher and she absolutely hates when I mention the "Queen's English" as it seems to conjure images of snobbery and British imperilaism in her mind (so she says).

When I was in Europe some years ago I met countless Dutch, Germans, Israelis, etc that spoke so much better English than I did. Was I surprised? For a moment, then I remembered: "What does Europe not do better than the United States?" Yes. :P

I always stun when it comes 2 these two spellin's
my mother language is not English, so it's gr8 to know
the reason =)
Color and grey.

-JAK, American
Retsof, your sense of humor inspires...
(still laughing)

queens english.
i tend toward the English spellings because my family history is English. I still have connections with the part of the family that stayed in England when my grandfather came here, so its not too far removed. I have had several close friends who were from England, too, and they all spoke with a lot of English slang. I love brit-coms and all the idioms used therein. So - colour for me!

i spell it gray. i don't know why, but i think it looks prettier that way. :P
I follow one simple rule regarding my choice of words. If I am talking casually about colors, then it it is just that "colors". If I am writing a poem and want to sound artful then it becomes colours.
Despite my Connecticut origins, I love "colour." Sometimes I'll say "color," though.
colOUr ;)
I'm American-raised . . . I prefer using British spellings almost everywhere, though. I have a finely attuned sense of awe to pretty words (effulgence would be one, scintillating another) and 'colour', 'metre', and 'storey' still have that slightly foreign and vaguely more sophisticated sense to me.

I'm collecting a list of British v.s. American English rules—at the moment my novel WiP's heroine is British, so it just makes more sense. I feel more comfortable semi-swearing the Brit way. ;)

Grey also tends to make me think of pearly greys, silky greys, &c, due to the slightly more exotic spelling for me, whereas gray has been around my whole life and is just that boring workhorse crayon that I never used. I wanted a silver Sharpie. ;_;

But my penchant for spelling things the British way gets me in trouble . . . I believe the Brits spell 'organization' as 'organisation', possibly? Either that or 'metre' got me into trouble with a light (thankfully anonymous) rebuke from my science teacher. "She can spell 'erudite' but not 'organization'?"

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