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Adrienne Montgomerie

This Book Contains Canadian Spelling

made for USA stamp

Every publisher who has hoped for a large U.S. audience has asked me to edit to U.S. spelling standards. You know, drop the dipthongs (oe and ae), omit the u from ou pairs, use z instead of s, allow only one consonant before adding an ending… They seem to think Americans won’t buy a book with unfamiliar spelling or punctuation practices.made for USA stamp

Won’t they?

Is it not our patriotic duty to be ourselves, to spell words according to our national preferences? Do you not feel betrayed when your fellow countryman honours another’s standards over our own?

Is not one of the purposes of reading to broaden one’s horizons?

On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of the superfluous letters in Canadian dictionaries. And no one is even maintaining a Canadian dictionary anymore. Well, unless you count the spellchecker in Word.

Should we just give in?

Maybe what they’re afraid of is bad reviews because of “misspellings.” This happens. In a world where reader reviews matter so much, is it worth tempting the wrath of the uninformed reader who posts “This book is full of misspellings”? I’ve had even Canadian peer reviewers complain that we misspelled “practise.”

Author discussions online wax toward the idea of including disclaimers in their books such as, “This book uses Canadian spelling.” But I wonder: the reader who doesn’t know there are other, correct spelling options, do they even read disclaimers?

What’s your feeling? Does patriotism win out? Does the small gesture of using U.S. spelling feel like pandering? Is holding onto Canadian spelling worth a battle?


Note: Editing Canadian English has an excellent summary of the intricacies of Canadian spelling preferences and a comparison of five dictionaries that dominate our practice.

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11 Comments on “This Book Contains Canadian Spelling”

  • Wilf Popoff


    Of course we must stick to our spelling. U.K. spelling has even greater distinction, as in programme, and I can’t imagine publishers there acceding to such a request.

    However, when a British book is published in America its spelling is usually changed to conform to U.S. style.

  • S Bays


    Absolutely we must stick to our Canadian spelling, our Canadian phraseology, and whatever other customs that make us different. If people in the US are perplexed by something they see, it only serves to remind them that there are other nationalities with other ways of doing things. It does need to mention somewhere that the author is Canadian, though.

  • Louise Harnby


    It’s certainly worth fighting a battle that educates those who think there is only one way of spelling words, one way of styling punctuation, one way of using language, etc. It’s frustrating (and rather dull) to have to listen to (and read), again and again, incorrect advice or criticism based on “rules” that simply don’t exist. The internet age was supposed to make the world smaller, not smaller-minded!

    I’m not a Canadian, but I’ll defend your right to write like one any day of the week!

  • Anita Jenkins


    I am Canadian and feel no loyalty to what they tell me is “our” spelling. I was educated in Alberta many decades ago, where most of our books were from the US, and I never heard much about the importance of spelling with -our, etc. Sort of had to learn that for certain jobs. Canadian Press used US spelling until some time in the 1990s, I think, so I was very used to that in my work. CP is the most common style guide for government and business writing/editing.

    Another non-issue, in my view.

  • Rosemary Shipton


    On spelling, the client dictates. Many Canadian children’s book publishers and textbook publishers request US spelling in their “house style guides,” simply because they sell more books into that market. Large Canadian trade publishers generally use Canadian spelling, but with one book on a Very Important Individual in Canadian history, I was asked to use US spelling because my client had teamed up with the American publisher to print their editions together (except for the title page and the jacket), and the savings on that joint print run allowed them to include many more illustrations and maps. With the Canadian order for 10,000 copies stacked up against the American order for 75,000 copies, there was no doubt who would win on spelling!

    Other oddities I’ve encountered in house style guides: Use Canadian spelling, except for “program.” And best of all, from a children’s book publisher: Use words for the numbers one to ten, and figures for 11 and above. Why? Children count on their fingers from one to ten, so think it’s logical to switch when the fingers run out!

    And so we get to the working editor’s life: Use Canadian spelling for work on one title in the morning, then switch hats over lunch and use US spelling for another title in the afternoon. Flexibility is key …

  • Barbara Dylla


    We’re Canadian, we have Canadian spelling, we’re in Canada — so use Canadian spelling.

    Do the Swiss use the ß character because the Germans do? No. They continue to write their words with two s’s, as in “essen” (versus eßen).

    So, no, we should not give in.

    • Anita Jenkins


      Where is it written that we have a particular spelling in Canada? My understanding is that the Canadian style, typically, is to be able to choose, and that we tend to choose US style a lot because America is our near neighbour and the source of a huge amount of our printed materials. The ECE book that EAC publishes doesn’t seem to set down cut and dried rules for Canadian spelling. (I have to admit that I haven’t studied it in detail because it is not of much interest to someone like me. Which style we use really doesn’t matter much – I want to think about other, bigger stuff when editing.)

  • Adrienne (scieditor)


    Loving all your comments. Every single one. Please accept this blanket acknowledgement as encouragement to keep sharing your stories.

  • The Nomadic Editor / Rachel Stuckey


    The funniest story on spelling differences I have is when I was watching a UK TV show about spies, and the MI-5 agent was sending IM messages posing as an American, and when he spelled something using and “s” instead of a “z,” I thought, OH NO! He’s been made! Of course the show producers clearly care less about spelling differences than us editors (however, it would have been a really nice touch if the MI-5 agents were that with it).

    I edit children’s books from a Canadian publisher whose main source of revenue are US sales–they use US spelling. I edit articles and papers for a German academic, and we change the style based on the purpose–US, UK, international. I think the language conventions should match the intended audience’s expectations (based on dialect, medium, level of formality). One of the great things about Canadian editors is that we can edit for various national audiences. I personally like when books, newspapers, blogs use Canadian spelling as it helps me identify the author/source!

  • Virginia Durksen


    Here’s a crazy idea. Spell words correctly and spell them consistently. After all, a truly “Canadian” approach to spelling is a blend of those styles we call “British” and “American.” Who’s to say what level of blending is best? My ideal style guide is the one that emerges from the writer’s style, with as much or as little consistency with standard Canadian spelling as the writer can manage. Any more fussing than that and we’re wasting time.

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