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Defence and Defense:

I've been looking at some 1800s American legal sources, and I noticed that many still used "defence" well into the second half of the century. At some point, though, "defense" became the universal American term. Do any of you know why the "-ce" shifted to an "-se"? Did the "-our" / "-or" shift and the dropping of "-me" on "programme" and the like happen for the same reason? If the latter shift was part of a spelling simplification movement, why the "-ce" / "-se" change, which isn't really a simplification?

Jacob (mail):
Not to quibble, but universal?
12.1.2006 3:07pm
Southern in the City:
I was always under the impression that Noah Webster was semi-responsible for these types of changes (among other, like "gaol" to "jail" and "plough" to "plow").
12.1.2006 3:14pm
Southern in the City:
12.1.2006 3:16pm
Bill Harshaw (mail) (www):
I second the Webster citation. Jill Lepore's book "A is for American" is well written and includes a chapter on his efforts to create an American language and spelling.
12.1.2006 3:23pm
Knucklehead (mail) (www):
Also see Spelling reform in English: Webster's attempt at systematization. The matter of defense, etc. is specifically addressed:

Defense, offense, and pretense. -- In these words, s is substituted for c, because s is used in the derivatives, as defensive, offensive, pretension. The words expense, recompense, and license have, on this ground, undergone the same alteration within comparatively a short period, and a change in the three mentioned above would complete the analogy. These words are here given in both forms of spelling.

Given the remarkable inconsistency of spelling when one reads historical documents even as late as the 18th and early 19th centuries it is easy to understand Mr. Webster's frustrations. We moderns tend to view the matter as one of poor education among the general population but that doesn't hold as far as I can tell. Inconsistencies in spelling are rampant even among the most well educated of the time and even among those who shared educational backgrounds. Spelling was, basically, a personalized free-for-all.

How the public went about accepting and rejecting Webster's suggestions over a seemingly short period is a puzzle. Why the legal industry took longer is not as puzzling. You legal types are, after all, insular, intrasigent old Mustache Petes.
12.1.2006 3:32pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Not to quibble, but universal?


British, and those they influenced.

Like "as well", "in hospital", "at university", and "at table", superfluous and effete.

I have spoken.
12.1.2006 3:53pm
Richard Riley (mail):
"In hospital," "at university," and "at table" are certainly Britishisms rarely encountered in U.S. speech, but "as well?"

"I drove to town and she did as well" - how is that superfluous and effete?

Also, putting the commas outside the quotation marks as Glenn W. Bowen has done is itself a Britishism. American usage is as in this post - commas and other punctuation marks inside the quotation marks. On this score the British usage probably makes more sense.
12.1.2006 4:15pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

as well


This seems to have become a popular usage in the last twenty years or so- or so I think.

"also", or "too".
12.1.2006 4:23pm
Knucklehead (mail) (www):
"I drove to town and she did as well" - how is that superfluous and effete?

Since they were both going to town then both of them driving was clearly superfluous. And if he couldn't talk her into riding with him rather than driving herself he must be effete.
12.1.2006 4:27pm
Jiminy (mail):
We both drove to town.
12.1.2006 4:33pm
Don Meaker (mail):
A certain Noah Webster intended that the new nation should be differentiated from Great Britain, and developed an American Dictionary. In doing so, he attempted to remove a number of Britishisms, such as u in favour, and the c in defense went the same way. After he produced his dictionary, part of his marketing was to emphasize the differences between American language and the "King's English", and so patriotic Americans began quite abruptly to use his preferred spelling.

Still stuck with "through" though.
12.1.2006 4:49pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Random complaint: I use Appleworks for word processing, and my spell check seems to be british. It always tries to correct Defense to Defence, -ize to -ise, and adds a random "u" to all kinds of words.

Has anyone else had this problem and figured out how to fix it?
12.1.2006 5:18pm
Blunderov (mail):
This is a wild guess but it may be that the old spelling has been, at least partly, perpetuated by chess literature which, AFAIK, almost always uses the old spelling. (Most of the chess openings were invented at least two or three generations ago.)

Also, the new spelling might be considered a simplification in that "defense" and "defensive" are easier to remember.
12.1.2006 5:25pm
Foobarista:
As for putting commas after "quotes", this style is definitely making a strong comeback among Americans who've ever used programming languages, where the British style makes more sense. Since the quoted item is a distinct lexical element in most languages - especially computer languages - putting the next lexical element, namely any punctuation, after it makes more sense. And you won't get any language-compiler errors :)
12.1.2006 5:27pm
CWuestefeld (mail) (www):
"Dear sirs:
"Please send me two mongooses
"Please send me two mongeese
"Please send me a mongoose, and please send me an additional one as well."

Foobarista:
I'm much in agreement with the idea of putting punctuation that's not part of what's being quoted outside the quotation marks. Rules or no, this is how I do it in all writing. Coincidentally, I develop software.
12.1.2006 5:48pm
Seamus (mail):

Also, putting the commas outside the quotation marks as Glenn W. Bowen has done is itself a Britishism. American usage is as in this post - commas and other punctuation marks inside the quotation marks. On this score the British usage probably makes more sense.


IIRC, American judicial decisions from the early 20th century were pretty careful about leaving punctuation outside the quotation marks unless they actually appeared in the original material.
12.1.2006 6:14pm
Seamus (mail):
Of course, that may simply have been the style followed by West Publishing Co. for their National Reporter System (which is where I found the decisions I'm referring to).
12.1.2006 6:15pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
Perhaps because American caselaw was still in its early development through the first half of the 19th century and thus legal scholars in America often consulted British caselaw for legal precedents, which utilized British nuances/spellings of English?
12.1.2006 6:21pm
Assistant Village Idiot (mail) (www):
Don Meaker notes the important point. English spelling was not standardized until there was a dictionary (Samuel Johnson, mid-18th), and even then it took a long time to be accepted. British English existed in many dialects - far more than in America - and everyone insisted that their own versions were more correct.

Webster wanted a distinctive American dictionary for a proud new nation, and wished to highlight the differences between British and American versions. As Southern In the City notes, he was only partly successful.

Once language it written down, it changes more slowly. Once a dictionary arrives, it changes more slowly still. Thus we retain bizarre spellings that were already going out of common pronunciation two centuries ago.
12.1.2006 6:38pm
Non-native speaker:
""In hospital," "at university," and "at table" are certainly Britishisms rarely encountered in U.S. speech"

How would you say those expressions in the U.S.?
12.1.2006 9:12pm
Le Messurier (mail):
Non-native speaker

"In the..." "at the..." "at the..."
12.1.2006 9:34pm
Freddy Hill (mail):
Actually,

"In hospital" means "hospitalized." "In the hospital" could mean that you are in a hospital because you work there or are visiting somebody.

Similarly, "at university" mans "in college," as in "Jane is in college." "At table" could be translated as "having dinner" as opposed to sitting at the table typing on a computer, as I'm doing right now.
12.2.2006 12:25am
Lev:
Would you like a gaggle of mongeese?

Not that it means anything, but I have gone to putting extraordinary punctuation, ? ! outside the quotes and commas and periods inside about half the time. It seems to me the extraordinary punctuation, if it is mine, does not reflect the source quoted accurately if it is within the quotes.

He said,"Now, why am I doing this?"

He said, "Now, why am I doing this"?

If accuracy of the quote is the important thing, then periods and commas should be within the quotes only if they are there in the original source - but was trained American, which is why sometimes in, sometimes out.
12.2.2006 12:33am
Informant (mail):
"Inconsistencies in spelling are rampant even among the most well educated of the time and even among those who shared educational backgrounds. Spelling was, basically, a personalized free-for-all."

For that matter, it wasn't unheard of for someone to use different spellings for the same word inside the same document. (George Washington and Shakespeare being examples.)
12.2.2006 1:02am
kovo62 (mail):
I think the American spelling simply corrects a British error of spelling. Defense come to English from the French défense which in turn received it from the late latin "defensa", hence the American spelling is more etimologically correct.
12.2.2006 6:05am
kcom:
Actually,

"In hospital" means "hospitalized." "In the hospital" could mean that you are in a hospital because you work there or are visiting somebody.

Similarly, "at university" mans "in college," as in "Jane is in college." "At table" could be translated as "having dinner" as opposed to sitting at the table typing on a computer, as I'm doing right now.


Actually, in my experience as an American, "in the hospital" (as in, "Johnny is in the hospital.") almost invariably means the subject in question is hospitalized. That's how we use it and the term "in hospital" doesn't exist in our common usage. If you were visting someone at a hospital, you would say "I was at the hospital" and not "in" it. If you were employed there you would tell someone you worked "at" a hospital. In the few cases where "in the hospital" didn't mean hospitalized, it would be clear from the context, e.g. "Did you get that test done in the doctor's office?" "No, in the hospital."

As to the other terms you mention, speaking from my lifelong experience as an American, I would say we just don't use them at all in our every day language. In terms of higher education, we stick pretty exclusively with "in college" or "going to college", even when that college is a university. For example, we'd say, "I go to college at Stanford University." or "My son is in college this year." I've never heard any American I know say they were "at university" (or "uni" for that matter, as I've seen on Australian blogs). And "at table" is just some British anachronism that's so quaint it's almost amusing. I dare say it doesn't show its face on these shores. If we're eating, we're eating. Or we're dining. Or we're having dinner. But any time we're using a table for a purpose, there is generally a "the" there. "I was sitting at the table writing a letter when the phone rang."

Having said all that, I do put my commas outside the quote marks when they belong there. I'm with the British on that one.
12.2.2006 9:06am
CLS (mail) (www):
Having lived in the US and in former British colonies I come across these problems often. And I write for both markets so I have to be constantly changing my spelling. Sometimes I labor and sometimes I labour. Webster was right on several points especially the absurd spelling “theatre” or “centre” where it is not pronounced that way even by the British. But the US gets wacko with “in the” terms as well. It is inconsistent.

People will say “He is in school” or “She is in church.” But they will also say “He is in the hospital”. So sometimes “the” is inserted and sometimes it is not.

I can live with these but what really irks me is the British pronunciation of words like garage, fillet, etc. These were French words and Americans tend to pronounce them in a manner similar to the original. The Brits mangle these words rather grotesquely. Where Americans will say “fi-ley” the Brits call it “fil-it”. No wonder the French aren’t fond of the British.

I’ve always refused to adopt the British mispronunciation of French words. So I will go in and order a “fi-ley”. In one of the colonies (not the US obviously) some child working as a waiter (I say child in that he was obviously in his teens and I doubt he has traveled or travelled outside his home country). I ordered a “fi-ley” and he had to correct me and tell me it was a “fil-it”. I was ready to smack the child. I didn’t and just told him: “Excuse me. The word is actually French. It is pronounced fi-ley. That you are unaware of that is your problem.”

Now with Mexican food appearing around the world you run into funny problems with pronunciation. In Africa a chain of restaurants added Mexican to the menu and decided to teach their customers how to pronounce these new items. And true to the British tradition of commonwealth countries they screwed up the pronunciation again. They told the customers that the correct way to pronounce fajita was to say “fa-gee-ta”. No wonder we get British films in the US with English subtitles. Exactly when did the Brits stop speaking English?
12.2.2006 11:46am
Peter Wimsey:
Once language it written down, it changes more slowly. Once a dictionary arrives, it changes more slowly still. Thus we retain bizarre spellings that were already going out of common pronunciation two centuries ago.

Linguistically, it doesn't seem to be true that languages change more slowly after they are written down or put in a dictionary. The fact that we have words that are now pronounced much differently from how they are spelled is, after all, evidence of language changing *despite* being written down.
12.2.2006 2:35pm
Cornellian (mail):
For example, we'd say, "I go to college at Stanford University." or "My son is in college this year." I've never heard any American I know say they were "at university" (or "uni" for that matter, as I've seen on Australian blogs). And "at table" is just some British anachronism that's so quaint it's almost amusing. I dare say it doesn't show its face on these shores.

Americans invariably refer to both universities and colleges as "college." I've never heard an American say "at table." I doubt an American would even know what a Brit meant by that phrase, though he'd know what you meant if you said something like "I went to a fund raising dinner for So-and-So charity and we were seated at the head table."
12.2.2006 4:36pm
Seamus (mail):

Now with Mexican food appearing around the world you run into funny problems with pronunciation. In Africa a chain of restaurants added Mexican to the menu and decided to teach their customers how to pronounce these new items. And true to the British tradition of commonwealth countries they screwed up the pronunciation again. They told the customers that the correct way to pronounce fajita was to say “fa-gee-ta”. No wonder we get British films in the US with English subtitles. Exactly when did the Brits stop speaking English?



Well, I might be more inclined to feel indignant about the mangling of Spanish words if it weren't for the fact that the Mexicans take good Celtic names like "McDonald" and "O'Brien" and turn them into "Maldonado" and "Obregón."
12.2.2006 5:13pm
Bleepless (mail):
The famous crank who ran the "Chicago Tribune" for decades was a passionate supporter of spelling reform, including tho, thru and frate. This sort of thing ended the issue following his death. Drti Kommiz.
12.2.2006 8:50pm
Lev:
And what is Augusto Pinochet, Chilean Spanish, prounced Aoogoostoh Pinoshay, instead of Pino Chet as in Chet Baker?


If you were visting someone at a hospital, you would say "I was at the hospital" and not "in" it. If you were employed there you would tell someone you worked "at" a hospital. In the few cases where "in the hospital" didn't mean hospitalized, it would be clear from the context, e.g. "Did you get that test done in the doctor's office?" "No, in the hospital."


So what is the deal with this "waiting on line" stuff? Where is the line they are on? If they are queued, they are in line on on line.

And what's the deal with "waiting on Godot"? Is he prone or supine and being stood upon, or is he being waited for because he is due to show up.
12.3.2006 12:13am
Abandon:
CLS, you must have meant a "filet", with only one 'l'. Next time you order a fillette, promess me my daughters wont be around...
12.3.2006 1:20am
kcom:
When I lived in Africa I was a regular listener to the BBC World Service and I always used to wince when it came time for the newsreader to pronounce Nicaragua. I'm not a linguist so I don't know how to write out the phonetic spelling properly but it came out sounding like Nick-uh-rag-you-uh, with an extra syllable and a short vowel that just doesn't belong there. It seemed to take all day for them to finish saying it.

But, of course, London is spelled and pronounced Londres in that part of the world so perhaps (as in the O'Brien example above) there's enough sin to go around. (However, I would certainly nip that "fa-gee-ta" thing in the bud, if possible.)
12.3.2006 9:42am
Lev:
Nick-uh-rag-you-uh

Think Jaguar, which to say, Jag you are
12.3.2006 10:43pm
StephenOccasionally (mail):
I went to Magdalene and read at the Pepys library. I could have gone to Balliol or Worcester, and read at the Bodleian library. Caius would have been good too.

Yours sincerely,

Stephen St.John Cholmondeley

Leicester Square, Marylebone.
12.3.2006 10:53pm
Jeremy Pierce (mail) (www):
Waiting on line is something you do in the New York City area. Please don't tar the entire United States with that local peculiarity. Calling that an Americanism is like calling some Welsh peculiarity a Britishism. The overwhelming majority of the United States waits in line and finds the expression "on line" to be unintelligible.
12.4.2006 9:16am
Preferred Customer:

Waiting on line is something you do in the New York City area. Please don't tar the entire United States with that local peculiarity. Calling that an Americanism is like calling some Welsh peculiarity a Britishism. The overwhelming majority of the United States waits in line and finds the expression "on line" to be unintelligible.



This is true. What was once merely a quaint verbal tic by our New York friends has become downright confusing with the rise of the Internet, though. The other day, someone said to me that they were "on line" when X event happened. I (natually) assumed that they were surfing the web, but in fact they were standing outside with a group of other people arranged in a linear fashion.
12.4.2006 9:34am
KevinM:
There are two American pronunciations of defense (deFENSE and DEEfense). The latter pronunciation is used in relation to sports, and the former in relation to everything else. In my experience the distinction is applied pretty consistently (e.g., nobody talks about the national DEEfense).
12.4.2006 10:35am