I’ve consciously rejected a number of American standards in my personal writing: specifically, date formatting, measurements, punctuation and spellings. This isn’t an attempt to be fancy as much as it is my frustration with this country’s categorical rejection of international standards. Also, I lived in Western Europe for seven years and was influenced by my experiences growing up. At one point, my online social circle was primarily Australians and their tendencies rubbed off on me too.
Of course, I’ll adapt myself for work projects! I haven’t insisted on using British spellings in my work projects because that would look weird. I’ll write in whatever house style I’m using at the time, or something close to it if I’m being edited. I’m pretty good at code-switching between different styles when I need to. But when I write for myself, I avoid these Trumpy standards.
The silliest of all these standards is the date format, especially when it’s written numerically. It simply makes no sense to write the month, then the day, then the year. It makes more sense to sort dates in a logical order like day/month/year or year/month/day. To prevent confusion when I write for multiple English-speaking audiences, I write dates out in words (example: 1 December 2017). Year/month/day is especially good for file names because they sort well naturally when written that way. There’s a reason why most countries don’t use this date format.
The United States is one of the few laggards on this planet when it comes to the adoption of the metric system and related units, like Celsius. Not only are we using the imperial system, we’re not even using the same imperial system that other countries like the UK and Canada use. When I write for wider audiences, I typically give both measurement formats. The sad thing is that the US could have gone metric if it weren’t for the Republican Party in the 1980s. The Carter Administration had started making moves towards metrication in the 70s, but Reagan shut it down.
Honestly, I’m kind of inconsistent with this, but I usually prefer logical punctuation over the kind that North American publishers and newspapers prefer, where dots/periods/full stops and commas have to go inside quotation marks regardless of whether they’re part of the quoted material or not. Sometimes I use internal punctuation, but that’s not often the case.
When it comes to spelling, Noah Webster – the man responsible for splitting English spelling standards in the first place – was a ‘pernicious mischief-maker’1, not a hero. Why? Well, Webster wanted to remove French influence from English spellings as a way to get back at Britain after the War for Independence. This is silly for two reasons: first, if it weren’t for France the US wouldn’t have even become an independent country anyway; second, if you really wanted to get back at England, wouldn’t you institute a programme to teach a different language entirely – maybe French? It’s silly to go after France to get back at Britain.
A common defence that I’ve seen people using is ‘wait, all the missing-U spellings are closer to the original Latin word’. Sure, but most other classes of US spellings aren’t closer to their ancestor. And in any case, what’s the matter with French? Not to mention, the etymological argument doesn’t work for multiple classes of words. Centre, licence, aesthetic, artefact, programme and analyse all have spellings that resemble the original root word more than their Americanised equivalents do. The same goes for succour, neighbour and armour2, all of which had ultimate ancestors that used a U for the final vowel. The next time somebody tries to whine about colour being French-derived, remind them about analyze, which has no etymological justification whatsoever.
Another argument I see in favour of adopting American standards is consistency, but again, this claim doesn’t hold up when further examined. Colour may become coloration, but what about four, forty and fourteen? Why does shoulder still have a U, but mould doesn’t when it’s Americanised? Why are only R and E reversed, and not similar letter combinations like L and E? Why aren’t they bubbel and trubbel instead of bubble and trouble? Why don’t Americans spell fence with an S when they spell defence with an S instead of a C? Fence is short for defence. English spelling, regardless of type, is a minefield. Americans need to stop touting their spelling system as being easier when it’s not. All Webster did was introduce confusion. I’ve seen cases of US spellings causing mixups amongst non-American native speakers who ordinarily use the international standards. The fact that the most blatant US spellings were mostly rejected in the other native-English-speaking countries doesn’t help the case for standardising on them and forgetting the existence of other spelling systems. Can we seriously not? If any country needs to change, it’s the United States.
I’m not telling anybody who grew up in the US or was strongly influenced by American standards to stop using them. I just wanted to explain my own reasoning for not using them in my personal work.