a puzzle for you

Many ideas for posts, but no time, so here's a placeholder until I have cleared out my inbox:

Paul pointed me to a discussion on a bridge discussion list (that's bridge the game, not the architectural kind, or the dental kind, or the musical kind...) that starts with a puzzle, directed to members of the American Contract Bridge League:
In the phrase "skillful signaling" can you move one letter
and retain correct, preferred English spelling?
I hope that readers of this blog will be able to solve the puzzle. (Find your hint here.)

The American responders find some clever ways to answer this question while missing its point--which just goes to show how separated the common language is.


  1. Got that one right away, no hints required.

    Living just north of the 49th parallel, it's impossible not to be aware of the spelling difference. When spelling checking software first came out for newspapers, Canadian newspapers bought the American version and tried to standardize on American spellings. It would have made editing wire stories a lot easier. But there was such an outcry from readers that they had to return to our happy Canadian hybrid.

    Did I already ask you if there is any other countr where "organized labour" is the correct spelling?

  2. Organized labour is a perfectly good spelling in Britain--the -ize suffix is the older one. But these days, few people in Britain reali{s/z}e that either spelling is 'officially' considered to be acceptable, and many now erroneously perceive the zed/zee spellings to be American innovations.

    There's more on this at Wikipedia.

  3. Interesting that the Australian Labor Party is so-spelled, despite the fact that Oz uses Commonwealth English spelling conventions.

    I've not yet been able to find out why the Party spells itself like that!


    > few people in Britain reali{s/z}e that either spelling is 'officially' considered to be acceptable, and many now erroneously perceive the zed/zee spellings to be American innovations.

    Indeed yes! As the Concise OED says, "Either spelling may be used. The form -ize has ben used in English since the 16th century; although it is widely used in American English, it is not an Americanism."

    I think some of my fellow-Brits would be surpised, if they were to take down a random selection of books from their shelves, to find out how many British publishing houses use the -ize style!


    In answer to your little puzzle, Lynne: that's one 'ell of a question! :-)

    Best regards to you and all your readers,


  4. Since my house style and my personal style for spelling words that end in "-ling" differ, I saw it right away.

    Which raises a question: Why isn't "spelling" spelled "speling" in standard AmE? (Outside of the old Chicago Tribune, perhaps*.)

    * Aside: It seems that the Chicago Tribune has been the producer of the "Chicagoland Spelling Bee" since 1982. I wonder what Colonel McCormick (or "M'Cormik") would have thought of that?

  5. few people in Britain reali{s/z}e that either spelling is 'officially' considered to be acceptable

    Thank you! I've been confused about that one for a while. Guess I should have looked it up myself.

  6. Just in case your question isn't facetious, Doug--it's not spelled speling because there are two Ls in the base form spell. Neither system deletes Ls when adding -ing.

  7. Why do we delete the 'l' from skill when we write skilful? I've never really noticed before (although 'skillful' does look wrong).

  8. The skilful spelling goes way back, and before the spelling was standardi{s/z}ed, skill was sometimes spelt/spelled with one L. Why it has persisted, while skill (unlike BrEfulfil and enrol) has a double L, I don't know.

    Ask Oxford's guide to common spelling mistakes gives the following:

    "skilful adjective
    Remember that skilful is spelled with one l in the middle (the spelling skillful is American).
    Rule: Drop the last l when adding suffixes (endings) which begin with a consonant to words which end in a double l (here, skill plus -ful): skilful."

    BrE Instalment and wilful follow the same "rule" (and look horrible in AmE). But the "rule" is not a regular one, as it would be incorrect, for example, to spell wellness as welness or illness as ilness. OED also lists the adjective spellful ('abounding in magical power') which seems never to have been spelt/spelled with one L. Another case of AmE spelling being more regular.

  9. > Another case of AmE spelling being more regular.

    Anyone looking for regularity in English spelling is, I think, looking for horse feathers.

    Noah Webster, as a spelling reformer, had the opportunity to reform English spelling on the North American Continent. And what was the extent of his reforms? He changed -our to -or (as in honour to honor), plough to plow, axe to ax, and a few other very minor changes. On the whole, not a huge accomplishment for a spelling reformer who, it seems, wanted to forge a distictly non-British written English language with a more efficient orthography!

    Yet from his half-hearted anti-British reforming attempts we have American spelling as it is today. We even have the boast that AmE spelling is more consistent than BrE, and worse still, that we should all adopt it.

    Let's remember what some of Webster's own American contemporaries said about him: "a pusillanimous, half-begotten, self-dubbed patriot," "an incurable lunatic," and "a deceitful newsmonger ... Pedagogue and Quack."

    My view entirely!

  10. I wouldn't dispute that, but how are the circumstances in which AmE spelling arose of any import whatsoever? The fact that the origins of certain American spellings can be traced to a certain imperfect man doesn't mean they're less useful today. There's no sense fretting over which orthography is used because all are equally irrational. The criteria used to judge them are unknown and indeterminable. X preserves the etymological history! Y looks like it sounds! Try applying the first principle consistently and you'll be writing Macaronic Anglo-Saxon. Apply the second principle and you're left with something akin to an IPA transcription. Each English word has an orthography unto itself. There are no rules and there never will be. We may rationalize, but it's all just fashion.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)