[Doc-SIG] British or American spellings?

Laura Creighton lac at openend.se
Sat Aug 11 17:45:31 CEST 2007

In a message of Sat, 11 Aug 2007 08:41:09 CDT, skip at pobox.com writes:
>In the core Python documentation should we strive for some consistency in
>spelling where British and American English differ (e.g., "favor"
>vs. "favour")?

I don't think so.  There are actually more than 2 variants -- Canadian
English (mostly-like-British-English but with a few differences),
Australian English (ditto, but a different set of differences), and
so on and so forth.  If you come to English as a second language, and
read a lot of English on the web, your internal model of 'what is
the way to spell this' contains words from each dictionary, and amounts
to a personal dialect.  (There are many people I know who like to
spell 'centre' like this, but spell theatre 'theater'.  Whether
you like 'anaethetist', 'anesthetist', 'anesthesiologist' or
'anaesthesioligist' has a lot to do with what it was called where you
studied medicine, rather than where you learned how to speak English.)
Pretty much everybody I know speaks of 'computer programs', not
'computer programmes', even those people who are writing them as
part of their job in implementing some sort of governmental 

Thus not only do actual speakers of 'British English' differ in how
they spell things, they also differ from what a conscientuous 
native speaker of non-British English -- or a program -- believes
is correct British English spelling.

The upshot is that you cannot automate the process -- run tests every
night against what Open Office thinks is proper spelling, for instance --
without getting both false positives and false negatives.  Open Office
would like you to believe that in British English there are no words
ending in ize -- but my OED lists 'synthesize' first -- but also allows
'synthesise' (which is how I spell it) and 'synthetize' and 'synthetise'.
Those last 2 just look like typos to me.

So, all you can realistically do is ask people to do as good a job as
they can.  The question then becomes, do we want to create the
language police to go over what is produced.  This is what many
journals do, and is one function of a professional editor -- somebody
who is so certain that his or her usage is correct that by changing
everything to suit their internal stadard, they will produce a
result which is pleasing to their readership (or its publishers)?

I think that this would be a bad idea. Having perfectly correct
spelling 'corrected' by a person or program who thought they knew
better is one of the great aggravations of modern life. (The usage of
'aggravation' to mean 'exasperation', by the way, is not accepted as
correct usage some places, where they only want 'something that makes
a thing worse'.  Most aggravating!)  I think that we risk alienating
and losing volunteers if we create the language police.

Plus I don't mind finding evidence that this is a community effort,
and that there are Americans using python. :-)  I suspect that they
don't mind discovering that non-Americans use python, too.  

I think that anything more than 'try to be consistent with the spelling
that went before when modifying a page' is asking too much.  And I
wouldn't worry too much if even that turns out to be too hard to notice.


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