King Canute and spelling

King Canute and Spelling

King Canute (or Knut) is reputed to have ordered that his throne be placed on the beach so he could sit and command the tide not to come in. It did come in, of course, and he and his throne began to get wet.

The story is often use as an example of somebody trying to do the impossible.

But that’s not what Canute was trying to do.

In some respects my attempts to maintain a distinction between English and American is as doomed to failure. And provokes occasional comments.

Use a spell checker!

The latest of these came after yesterday’s article on the Meta Model patterns of Fuzzy Thinking. It was a very pleasant and courteous email and included a request that I use a spell-checker! I do use one – and it checks against commonly accepted English as used in England.

Because of the amount of American-produced software, incorporating American spell-checkers, it is becoming almost the norm to spell in American.

Microsoft has played no small part in this. Their software, even when sold in the UK and Ireland, features spell-checkers which seem to have a habit of reverting their default to American even when set to what they call “English (UK)”.

English software – with US spelling

There is a further challenge. A lot of English software now features American spelling, too. Either because it is aimed at the American, and much larger, market or because the people who wrote the software have been using American spell-checkers for so long that they can no longer spell in English.

My sister visited us recently and on reading something I had written pointed out that I had incorrectly spelled ‘programme’. In her mind it should be spelled ‘program’. Where she works computers are workhorses and the staff are not interested in tweaking and customising(!) the programmes. Subtleties like  changing the defaults are ignored. As a result she and her colleagues have been using American spell-checkers for so long they think the American way is correct for this part of the world (England and Ireland)!

So, really, a chap has to take a stand somewhere, doesn’t he!

English vs. American English

I’ve had a look through some recent newsletters and switched between American and English spellings to get a list of some common differences between the two “languages” (as they are rapidly becoming!) I then used an English dictionary – a real old-fashioned paper one rather than a software one, just in case… And I came up with the following:

English Spelling
American Spelling
recognize (sometimes Eng. too)
recognizing (sometimes Eng. too)
generalizations (sometimes Eng. too)
revitalize (sometimes Eng. too)
practise (the verb)
practice (the noun)
practice (Am. both verb and noun!)
apologizing (sometimes Eng. too)
finalized (sometimes Eng. too)

Now for a lovely one…


So we sometimes have two ‘l’s’ in English and one in American…

But, other times, we have one in English and two in American.  Got it?  Easy isn’t it…!

Get it right?

All of which goes to show what a pointless exercise it is becoming to try and get it ‘right’!

English is a living and dynamic language – and is becoming the standard on the Web. And there are more Americans using the Web than English, more American products available, and more non-English speakers using American products to learn English.

English as some of us Europeans have known it may not have long to go. Yet I’m sitting here in my chair ranting at the world to stop and do it my way. Rather like King Canute is supposed to have been doing. And as long as I, and others, don’t take it too seriously it’s a harmless little exercise.

The Big Picture

It’s like a lot of things in life. As long as we do not lose sight of the big picture that’s fine. The big picture is what is really important to me or you at any moment. The big picture of the web site and of the newsletter is to make available a few ideas, tips, and insights that I have come across and have found helpful for myself and when coaching others.

As for the King Canute (or Knut)…

So what about old Canute? Well, he was not trying to stop the tide from coming in. He was a lot wiser than that. He wanted to demonstrate to his over-demanding subjects that even the king was not omnipotent – that he was not so powerful that he could even stop the tide from coming in.

That’s what he intended.

But along the way, over the centuries, people forgot what his big picture was – they missed his point.

By Reg Connolly



From the Pegasus NLP Newsletter 22 August 2000.

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