How do you spell travel(l)ing?

crossword

Sometimes you need to get the spelling rite

I’ve discovered something you veteran blog writers have known for a long time:  it’s easy to write the first draft of a post but far more difficult and time consuming to produce a “final” (ha!) version.

I already knew that writing is a chore because, in effect, I earned my living for many years writing NIH grant proposals. What’s new for me is not learning the importance of editing, it’s the number of drafts I now need to go through.

Why more drafts? As we age, our cognitive processing resources diminish gradually. When reading, we focus to an increasing extent on extracting the “gist” of a story or narrative, spending less mental effort on details such as the letters used to spell words.

To counteract this natural age-related tendency, I’ve tried to devote ample time to ridding my posts of grammatical and spelling errors. (Yes, I continue to hope that someday someone will read them!) This burst of fussiness led me to discover a variation in the spelling of a crucial pair of words. I’ve been writing both “traveller” and “traveler”, and using two forms of the gerund (“travelling”, “traveling”).

What this meant, in effect, was that regardless of what is the correct spelling of the crucial words mentioned earlier, I was mispelling them about half the time. I set about discovering what are the spellings and soon learned that using two “l”s is a British usage.

Fine. But I’m a retired American scientist, and am curious to the core. I wondered why I was showing apparently random variation between the competing forms. Some of my former colleagues could write a book or two on the topic. I’ll simply offer my hypothesis: I once spent a lot of time reading British English literature, and I’ve been living in Europe now for some time. I think I use the competing variants because I see (read) both versions of the words in question on a regular basis. The competing variants are part of my admittedly confused mental lexicon.

I could, of course, adopt one variant or the other when writing for this blog and let it go at that. However, when I read the post below I realized that I had better not be so superficial. Spelling, it seems, is something that get some folks into a dither and others to get their panties twisted into a knot. Read on:

Answers.com > Wiki Answers > Categories > Travel & Places > What is the correct spelling traveling or travelling

Answer #1: traveling

Answer #2:  ‘Travelling” in British English. ‘Traveling” in American English. There is surely only English, English is the original language. Therefore there is only one correct spelling. Americans did not invent the language they simply speak it. If Americans fail to spell the language they speak correctly it is not within their remit to change that language to compensate for their inadequacy. Canadians speak English just like their American near “neighbours” yet they have taken the time and trouble to learn their own language, is it not time for Americans to do likewise and not try to reinvent the wheel and call something an Americanism? Likewise is it not time for the rest of the world to realise that American is not a language its simply a poor excuse for bad spelling. Ebonics for an audience that might not be black.

The above answer is a perfect demonstration of a core precept of a now little practiced method of education: “Don’t be content just answering a question if you can find a clever way to insult the person who asked or, that failing a nationality or race”.

As you know, good reader, the intended audience of this blog are North Americans interested in Europe. That is to say, both Canadians and Americans. Thanks to the answer provided by the above subscriber to  http://wiki.answers.com/ I was able to learn that my native variety of English is “simply a poor excuse for bad spelling”, something I hadn’t fully appreciated before.

But now I’m facing a terrible dilemna. How do I go about pleasing both the Canadian and American readers of this blog?

 

 

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About Jim Flege

Jim Flege carried out research on phonetic aspects of second-language acquisition and bilingualism at an American university. He moved to Italy after retiring and lives with his Italian wife and their Jack Russell terrier in a small town in central Italy. Jim currently serves as the European Director of the Travel Learning Network, an organization provides educational and cultural immersion programs in Europe. You can reach Jim directly by writing to: director (at) www.travlearning (dot) net
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