The 51st State

7 September 2004


A Blue Perspective: The 51st State

When you log onto the Internet you leave your house. You leave your state, you leave your country. You enter a global morass of words, thoughts and images. That is the Internet – borders no longer exist. You can buy car tyres off a Canadian, chat with a South African and read a Turkish manifesto. It's truly a Global Vill ... no, I won't say it. :o]

However, whenever borders are removed you always get conflict. Not necessarily guns and explosions, but misunderstandings and competition. And I hate to say it, but I think we're losing the battle. Americans needn't be concerned, because they're winning. No, it's the colonial outposts that are suffering. England, Australia, New Zealand; pretty much any place whose residents know better than to tack a rasping, razor sharp "z" onto the end of words just because it's phonetic: analyze, synthesize, monetize, realize. Our language is dying!

It might seem a petty thing, but our language is part of our identity. As we progress into the future, the Internet is becoming a major part of that identity, and the Internet is American. Or at least the english speaking part is. According to Alexa (an adjunct of those damn yankees, Amazon) the ten most visited english language sites are all American. Most importantly, four of those ten sites (Yahoo, MSN, Google and Go) are search engines.

With technology sans frontiers it becomes increasingly important that you cater to a global market. Search engines are one of the most effective ways of giving that global market access to your web pages, but they can only do that if people look for the right words. Let me rephrase that: they can only do that if you have the right words that people are looking for. When you type "grey" into Google, you get vastly different results than when you type "gray", yet if we're talking about colo(u)rs, then they're both the same thing. The same can be said for catalogue/catalog, apologise/apologize, behaviour/behavior, centre/center, etcetera, etcetera.

When you're writing, you've got to choose the way you're going to write. When you're writing on the Web, and you want the world to listen, which way are you going to choose? The way that gets you the most listeners.

It is not looking good for my old friend "colour", I'm afraid.


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  1. 1/29

    Kim Siever commented on 7 September 2004 @ 02:56

    I completely agree. It is particularly worse in Canada, where American music, movies, TV shows, newspapers, magazines and radio stations have vastly influenced the way we speak and spell.

    If you think you are fighting a losing battle in the world, I am fighting a losing battle in my own country.

  2. 2/29

    beto commented on 7 September 2004 @ 03:05

    I've always liked grammar and pronunciation of U.K's English better - American English sounds lazy and sparse in comparison.

    Of course, the conflict of interest goes beyond grammatical differences, specially in the case of non-English-speaking people in other countries who have been forced to use computers and operating systems in a language that isn't theirs - therefore forced to learn English (and American English at that). Many would think what's wrong with learning a new language - but I can't think of this "learn-by-brute-force" approach without feeling a slightly evil side to it.

    But delving further into that would make for a textbook-sized comment, so I won't.

  3. 3/29

    Dan commented on 7 September 2004 @ 03:21

    Alexa's stats come from tracking people who use their toolbar.

    So, all that those stats that you mentioned tell you is that Americans are much more likely to use Internet Explorer and get duped into installing spyware than others...

  4. 4/29

    Hans commented on 7 September 2004 @ 04:05

    And I thought you were gonna rant about Puerto Rico. Smack me.

    I lie somewhat in between British and American grammar/spelling. I feel more comfortable using the "ou" whenever I can, but I can never escape the impulse to use "z". My mind tells me that "judgement" _is_ spelled with an "e", but there must be a comma after each and every single object in a list. I like to think that my periods and commas belong _outside_ the "quotation mark", but everyone around here thinks I'm stupid when I do. I try to talk in an accent that's as neutral as I can make it. If someone uses the word "indeed" more than once a day, they will get their ass kicked.

    "Grey" seems more "moody" and "wide", while "gray" seems too "round" and "happy" and "American". I like Grey.

  5. 5/29

    Nick Finck commented on 7 September 2004 @ 04:28

    I completely disagree. I do not believe that there is a universal adoption of any English speaking country-specific word usage. My publication's style guide is set for American English because 90% of our audience is from the U.S. If 90% was from the U.K., sure, I'd have the style guide changed. But putting out a blanketed statement such as above only leads to confusion and the lack of attention to what really is important: knowing your site's audience.

  6. 6/29

    Dave S. commented on 7 September 2004 @ 04:34

    It is what you make of it, I think. Despite most every site I read making use of American spelling, I've resolutely stuck to my guns on words like 'colour'. In two years, not a single person has written in to 'correct' my spelling; any problems are with my sticking to the self-imposed style guide.

    Actually, most of my problems in keeping with this system are that I learned a lot of words *wrong* to begin with. 'Utilise' and 'centimetre' seem very foreign to me, so they rarely make it into my writing.

  7. 7/29

    Jonathan Snook commented on 7 September 2004 @ 08:05

    Dave S: one of the issues in using the word "colour" isn't that people might correct your usage, but rather that those doing a search on the subject of colo(u)r may miss out on your content entirely based on spelling.

    I often get confused as to grey or gray, or using an 's' instead of a 'z' but since I don't make a living as a writer, it hasn't impacted me greatly either way.

    I'm all for a unifying of language, and if that's American English, then so be it.

  8. 8/29

    Lea de Groot commented on 7 September 2004 @ 11:34

    Ah, yes, I'm sure my net friends are quite sick of (or possibly quietly confused by) my efforts to work the word 'gaol' into the conversation :)

    A large pecentage of our dear American friends (and I don't mean that term sarcastically - I may hate their government this year, but some of my best friends live there) don't even realise there are other ways of doing things such as spelling. (Until I start working on them obviously ;))

    But I fear the cause is doomed - language will combine and variety will go the way of the dodo.
    Although hopefully not until after I am dead!

  9. 9/29

    The Man in Blue commented on 7 September 2004 @ 12:34

    Nick: I'd like to think that we are enlightened individuals who take all the important variables into consideration when determining content for web sites, etc. However, I know for a fact that people are lazy, or just don't care. All you have to do is go to the nearest Counterstrike forum to see language being put through excruciating torture:

    On an Australian CMS that I administer, many of the administrators copy text from other sources and insert it -- with Americanisms -- onto the site. Hell, even when they're writing their own copy in Microsoft Word most of the time it's set to U.S. English (it's particularly stubborn and sometimes random when changing dialects), so the auto spell checker often changes words surreptitiously; the user being none the wiser.

    What does this all add up to? Your language won't change as soon as you jump on the Internet, but I think it (and other technology) will gradually change the way society uses language; much as repeated use introduces other new words into the popular lexicon.

    Maybe Jakob would say that it's just usable language:

  10. 10/29

    Bruce commented on 7 September 2004 @ 14:33

    One thing we forgot is the encentive to do so. Your site and mine, although we are both Australian have .com addresses rather than addresses. It is cheaper for the american version. No incentive cost wise. My site is also hosted by americans; because ?... it is cheaper. Oops, no nationalism there, just the effects of capitalism.

    One wonders what it will be like when America and americans are just a cultural backwater. After all civilisations don't go on forever; they all get taken over / superceded eventually. Not in our lifetimes obviously but down the track it's coming. So hang onto your little cultural bits and pieces, one day they could dominate the world, or perhaps the solar system. I dare say there will be no HTML tags then either, so bring on the day.

  11. 11/29

    Johan Edlund commented on 7 September 2004 @ 17:58

    Aha, now I know why I have such a hard time to spell græy!

  12. 12/29

    i commented on 7 September 2004 @ 18:10

    Suerte a todos. Con el Espaņol no tenemos ese problema. juas juas

  13. 13/29

    pg commented on 8 September 2004 @ 00:09

    My dear blue fellow... I agree in the fact that English has became the 'defacto' language for the internet; nevertheless, you should investigate before stating it as a pure "american" idiom.
    In the other hand, all those misspellings you can find in the internet are done by people who know little or nothing about grammar, ortography and semanthics. This happens in any language and doesn't depend on the origin of that person. Depends on the degree of preparation and educational level of the individual who writes a book, a newspaper,a magazine or in this special case, the information into the net.

    To finish and just for the record, I write "american" between quotes since is another big mistake to consider the USA as America. America is a continent, not a country my friend.


  14. 14/29

    The Man in Blue commented on 8 September 2004 @ 00:30

    Hmmmm ... what *does* one call a resident of the USA?

    A United Statesonian?

  15. 15/29

    Andy Budd commented on 8 September 2004 @ 01:59

    While I agree with what you say, I'd also say that colloquial Australian English is damaging the English language as well. Not via the web, but definitely via TV programs such as Neighbours and
    cultural exchange, a process in which we send our youngest and brightest graduates over to Australia for a year to learn to surf, shear sheep and drink piss(larger).

    The number of people these days in the UK that say Uni instead of university or abbreviate every word possible is amazing. I'm just glad that adding o to the end of everybody's name hasn't caught on yet (john-o).


  16. 16/29

    Lee commented on 8 September 2004 @ 05:45

    I'm English, so I write in English, not American (Americans don't speak English, you speak American, a pseudo-English, sorry to break it to you). I code in American because that's what the interpretters understand, if I write 'colour' it gets rejected, and sometimes the transition means I initially write some words American, but I'm sure to go back and change it.

    I don't see it as an overall threat, I think as the world become more global, niches will become ever more important (Americans go nuts for English accents, traditions and nuances for example), I think that each nation, and region within in it will begin to exert, maybe even exaggerate, these differences in order to stand out from the crowd and create a market.

  17. 17/29

    Ryan Currie commented on 8 September 2004 @ 13:23

    As I see it, the fact that you say the internet is american in nature is false. Compared to the world, America is behind the internet, in speeds, connectivity and so on.

    Individuals in Europe, Austrailia, Korea, and many other nations have better speeds then americans. Your statement as to the 'Internet is America' is false, and a good way to start an opinioned flamewar.

    U.K grammar, spelling, and language differs little from the English that is spoken in america, you are pointing out spellings of words that dont really have too much difference to their altered 'American' spellings.

  18. 18/29

    The Man in Blue commented on 8 September 2004 @ 13:59

    Individual connectivity is not a direct indication of the actual content of the Internet. As Alexa points out, and also these (oldish) Nielsen ratings:

    The top properties are American.

    Furthermore, see where it says "the Internet is American. Or at least the english speaking part is"? I don't think that includes Korea and most of Europe.

    As for language differing little, that's what the article's all about -- the little differences. I'm not talking about the resurrection of the Roman Empire forcing us to speak latin. It's the little quirks that make up your identity, not the fact that you have two arms and a head.

  19. 19/29

    Mark Tranchant commented on 8 September 2004 @ 17:24

    -ize endings are often correct UK English. Many assume that -ise is correct simply because those Yankees don't use it.


  20. 20/29

    will commented on 9 September 2004 @ 04:58

    Having spent a lot of time in various chat rooms and forums, the strange phenomenon I have noticed is for Americans to start picking up on sayings and spellings of those in the UK. Maybe they don't realize what they are doing, but I often see people whom I know are from the US saying things like "I was chuffed" and "nah, I can't be arsed".

    Also, my wife and I named our son Gray, and 9 out of 10 times, Americans think it's spelled Grey.

    Perhaps the internet is the greatest melting pot of them all?

  21. 21/29

    Hans commented on 10 September 2004 @ 09:14

    I agree with the statement that the internet is _not_ american. (Yes, and that's _not_ capitalized.)

    a) It wasn't created in "America". the internet hails from CERN.

    b) the English ain't completely american.

    c) arguably, USA is behind in most technologies relating to the internet. Including cell/mobile phones.

    Sure, millions of internet users are from the USA, but most of them are idiots on dial-up still thinking that AOL is the internet and the word "windows" means "operating system".

    My words may be harsh, but they're my words.

  22. 22/29

    Christopher commented on 21 September 2004 @ 17:34

    As an American, a few rebuttals.

    First, everyone from everywhere else may call us American or Yanks or imperialists but amongst ourselves we tend to speak in terms of state citizenship. I'm a Virginian first.

    Regarding American English, my apologies if you hate it so much. But, we're not transplanted Brits. We're transplanted Brits, Germans, French, Spaniards, the list just goes on and on. American really is, like our society, a melting pot language. The spellings we use now come from generations of new immigrants.

    When we first started out our English was spelled much as UK English is spelled today. Then some Germans came. And some Spanish. And French, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, etc. And they all learned that the "ou" in colour is superfluous. And they all learned that "s" is usually a soft sound and "z" is a little harder. Our language changed to suit our citizenry. I think some of you folks from other nations tend to forget that we're made up of a whole hell of a lot of different cultures.

    Where some of you may derisively view America as some great monoculture that forces everyone to conform I don't see that. We're a culture and language made up of a thousand different pieces. Just because all you ever see is New York and Los Angeles doesn't mean the whole country is like that. They are two vastly different places that are entirely different from every other place in my country.

    So, I'm sorry about colour. I happen to prefer that spelling. It feels more full in the mouth. But, there has to be a default.

    And, as for the net being invented at CERN? Where did you get that? Last I heard its an offshoot of DARPANet. And, TCP/IP, that's Vint Cerf, a Californian.

  23. 23/29

    Thomas commented on 24 September 2004 @ 00:31

    Wow, I notice that topics like this sure are a great way for people to feel smug about their knowledge of spelling, grammar, etc.

    Cool thing bout interacting on the net is that it's absolutely about choice. You may have a certain tool force you to work using the American idiom, but you don't have to write that way if you don't want. Just spell it colour and get over it.

    Fret too much about this stuff and you begin to sound like a French official protecting the purity of the culture.

    I like the guy who said he doesn't see it as a threat. It's not. It's just the way it is. You can make your own choices and work from there. Look at Japan. The U.S. completely occupied the place, reworked their whole government the way it wanted it. So, has the entire Japanese culture dissapeared (yeah I can't spell)? No.

    And anyway, when did Brits start getting all worked up about their identity. I guess all that post-WWII self loathing is over?

    I'm busy looking for my life. If the expanding use of American (or the icreasing number of Starbucks outlets, McDonalds, etc.) is bothering you that much, maybe you should do the same.

    Oh state citizenship? I don't know bout that. I've met lots of people here (Las Vegas) that don't refer to their home state unless you ask them specifically. Maybe back east that's a big thing. Not around here.

  24. 24/29

    Mrs. H commented on 15 October 2004 @ 05:07


    Californians are a breed that love to identify themselves by state (if they are born here..) Oh and we love to identify oursleves by whether we are from above or below San Luis Obispo.

    Onto language... there is absolutely no reason for any of the world to feel obligated to use 'Merican English if they don't need to. I have no issue with gaols or favours and don't require a translator to read Guardian articles :-)

  25. 25/29

    Pat commented on 21 October 2004 @ 23:55

    Interesting to note that spells "programme", while the US equivalent spells "program".

  26. 26/29

    Jim commented on 2 November 2004 @ 19:17

    Language is a constantly evolving, living, breathing animal. - It changes with time and usage, tribes and peoples migrate and take their (i before e except after c - exception #1) language with them to the new world(s/z)

    If our (anglo) ancestors had insisted on preserving their tongue(s/z) then we would all be talking like flemish farmers, with the exception of our leaders who would be talking in high latin.

    In my opinion language must change if we are not to stagnate as a society (i before e except after c - exception #2) and instead if we are to integrate and share our cultures we _must_ share our language.

    We've got to be careful though, with the advent of the internet(s/z) and its effects on our youth we could all and up t4lk1ng l1k3 1337 h4xx0rs...

  27. 27/29

    Paul Connolley commented on 3 November 2004 @ 02:12

    I agree with you Jim. Language mustn't stagnate but evolve. I often worry about the current state of our language. In previous centuries, there wasn't the enforcement upon language which is present in this current time.

    In a thousand years time, will we still spell things the same? What progression and change of dialects will occur, if any. The chances of new languages and dialects of English appearing could be slim. I'd rather see languages evolve and separate than remain the same. Perhaps, in my next incarnation, the linguist-enthusiast in me will be able to study how the English language forked off into entirely different dialects.

    Honestly though, I can't see much changing in both dialects of the English language. Or any dialect to be fair. Look at various African and West Indian dialects. More than that, look at Doric (a Glaswegian dialect of English). How people publish this content is most likely indeterminable. I have no interest in seeing the sort of oppression placed upon a language similar to the efforts made by French government.

  28. 28/29

    The Man in Blue commented on 3 November 2004 @ 09:21

    Jim: I can accept change, it's merely my nostalgic side here that is lamenting a loss of tradition.

    But, accepting change, don't you then have to embrace all that comes with it -- 1337 h4xx0rs and all? For who is to say that one is better than the other?

  29. 29/29

    Kusinagii commented on 22 February 2005 @ 07:00

    Just a quick comment to clarify "the internet is" actually american (I didn't capitalize it because I didn't want to). The reason the internet would be american and also who created it is not just some one person, it was accutally the american government back in the 60's that created a crude form of what the internet is to day just for a visual communication. It was also created to allow the transfer of documents over telephone lines to keep persons that were too far away to transport the documents manually or if it was to risky to send by snail mail (U.S.P.S.) from losing the information or allowing it to be copied.
    At the time the U.S. government was the only one's that use the internet which at the time was on e-mail and also was pretty darn slow.
    A quick note about saying American; when you say or type American you must remember that American can be applied to not only the United States but also Mexico, Canada, Panama...etc or even any country in South America or South America itself. Just be a little more specific when your are using the term America such as USA or US, they are not as often seen but eventually if people use the more specific term the world as a whole may one day actually stop thinking as America is the US and Canada is Canada and Mexico is Mexico when really Mexico is America, Canada is America, even Brazil is America and Equidor and Peru...etc. By just say that the internet is American or isnt is also including every other country in South and North America, some of which don't even have computers some never have seen computers. This is Just a penny for thought, heed well though it could mean all the difference.

    Post Script:
    I appologize for any mis spelling or bad syntax I'm not an English professor or even good at it, even though I do spead the United States version NOT American, America has psuedo-Engish, French, psuedo-Spanish and other languages all mixed into it's whole.

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