Is Americanese now acceptable?
Royal watchers have recently spotted a rash of Americanisms appearing on the Instagram account of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – or Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they’re commonly known – when baby Archie’s impending birth sparked talk of ‘diapers’ and ‘strollers’. Fair enough, you may think. After all, the Instagram account is half-American – even though Kensington Palace aides say the posts are written by members of their staff, rather than the Duchess herself.
But then the Prince of Wales crossed the line. His letter to President Macron following the Notre Dame fire used several American spellings. He wrote of “Western Civilization” and how the French people were facing “the most agonizing of times”, adding “I realize only too well what a truly special significance the cathedral holds at the heart of your nation”.
The Times noted, “If Prince Charles, that great upholder of traditional virtues, does not realise – yes, that is how it is spelt – that any self-respecting Englishman uses -ise rather than -ize, then surely is nothing is sacred?”
Brits on Twitter were not impressed. One tweeted pointedly, “Are you an American or the future king?”
However, apparently, we can all relax. The heir to the throne has the backing of no less an authority than Oxford Dictionaries. The publisher writes on its website that while it is widely believed that spelling words such as ‘organize’ and ‘finalize’ with a ‘z’ instead of an ‘s’ is due to Americans messing with the English language, the practice originated in England. Although -ize forms are now standard in US English, they have been in use in English spelling since the 15th century. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) proves its point by revealing the first example of ‘organize’ dates from around 1425 while the earliest example of ‘realize’ is from 1611.
The OED concludes, “In British English it doesn’t matter which spelling convention is chosen: neither is right or wrong and neither is ‘more right’ than the other. The important thing is that, whichever form you choose, you should use it consistently within a piece of writing.”
A word of warning though. Some words should always be spelt with an -se in British English because they have different linguistic roots. These include ‘excise’, ‘advertise’ and ‘analyse’. If Prince Charles is ever caught using spellings such as ‘analyse’, ‘catalyse’ or ‘paralyse’, it will surely signal the collapse of civilisation as we know it.
Personally, I consider use of Americanisms when writing for an English audience an aberration. Royalty may be able to get away with taking such liberties with the English language – but mere mortals wanting to project a professional image cannot!