Wiktionary:American or British Spelling

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Policy discussion moved to Wiktionary:Spelling Variants in Entry Names - Draft Policy--Richardb 07:36, 15 April 2006 (UTC)

This page is established to build a policy on when to use American or British spelling, how to treat words with alternate spellings etc. An initial Draft Policy is presented not as some fait-accompli, but as a means of provoking discussion.

Previous discussions around this topic can be found at Wiktionary:Policy Think Tank on American or British Spelling/discussion archive.

See the discussion page for current discussions on this policy, and the approach to managing development of this policy.

Anyone should then feel free to improve on the Draft Policy on this page. Change the title and category when there is a consensus that it is ready to consititute a Draft Policy that has been reasonably discussed.

See Wiktionary:Policies and Guidelines - Policy for information on the development of policies.


Draft Policy in Development[edit]

  1. There is no need for a consistent American or British approach for the Entry title. Whichever entry spelling is entered first shall stand (Based on date of first entry). It would be unrealistic to strive for a consistent American or British approach, since many members would not accept the choice of one or the other as the "dominant" or "accepted" form. Surely though we can agree on which entry was made first.
Yes, we can agree on which entry was made first, but many people won't like that approach.
  1. A Forwarding Entry will be made for the other/alternate spelling entry to point to the already existing page.
    1. If there is no known difference of meaning between the two differently spelt words (eg: Colour / Color), then the Forwarding Entry can be a simple REDIRECT page.
That's the way it's done on Wikipedia. But there is a very important difference, you didn't consider. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, but Wiktionary is a dictionary, which means the words themselves are the focus of attention. For most people, it's a huge difference if color is spelt colour...
    1. If there is some difference of meaning for the two words (eg: Tire / Tyre), then explain that difference in the Forwarding Entry entries, and add a link to the Alternate Spelling page where ALL meanings are defined. Of course, the Forwarding Entry page may also be used for the same word, possibly different meaning, in other languages. Can anyone think of an example to put here
  1. Do NOT create a second page with duplicate definitions, as these inevitably will subsequently be maintained differently, and end up as different definitions for what is essentially the same word.
Why not? Only about 0.4% percent of all words have variant spellings. It's not that big of a deal. If there's someone willing to do the work, let them do it!
Because invariably someone will not be willing to do the work. Check out Favor/Favour (as of this writing) for an example: Favor is much more complete, because Favour was created and then abandoned. A simple redirect from the British to the American spelling (or vice versa, of course) would solve the problem, but leaving the two articles separate and unequal is definitely unacceptable. (I added the redirect today; User:24 reverted it.) --Quuxplusone 01:04, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
If you feel a change is needed, feel free to make it yourself! Wiktionary is a wiki, so anyone — including you — can edit any entry by following the edit link. You don't even need to log in, although there are several reasons why you might want to. Wiki convention is to be bold and not be afraid of making mistakes. If you're not sure how editing works, have a look at How to edit a page, or try out the Sandbox to test your editing skills. New contributors are always welcome., if someone else doesn't do it, this is a wiki. 24 01:07, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
I agree with this policy since it does not affect just differences in spelling. See sickle cell anemia, sickle-cell anemia, sickle cell anaemia and sickle-cell anaemia. Jonathan Webley 11:40, 12 August 2005 (UTC)
  1. The ALTERNATE SPELLING section of the main entry shall list both/all spellings as the ALTERNATES, with an indication of which spelling is used where. (Australia is particularly impacted here, as sometimes one spelling is the most accepted, sometimes the other, sometimes both are equally acceptable)
    • By the way, note that the word is alternative. A "dictionary" really ought to get that right! --Quuxplusone 01:06, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
      • Stop the shouting. Alternate as a noun can mean alternative. 24 01:09, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
  2. Not withstanding the above, certain special/Wiktionary pages shall remain named in the now accepted ways:-
Nobody seems to care anyway: See colour and centre and lots of other entries.

Comments by TomBrown 06:54, 27 May 2005 (UTC)

Different Proposal[edit]

  • All variants are treated equally. If there are editors who want to create an entry for a Commonwealth variant of an already existing entry, they may do so. If there are editors who want to create an entry for a U.S. variant of an already existing entry, they may do so.
    Rationale: Variant spellings are only a tiny fraction of the number of English words. Having only one entry and a redirect will annoy many users, having two separate entries will not. If there are editors willing to do the extra editing work, let them do it. There is no need to make one entry the exact copy of the other. A Commonwealth English entry uses Commonwealth usage and spelling in its definition and examples sentences, a U.S. English entry uses U.S. English. Both entries should redirect/link to each other.
  • Maybe this is the more realistic policy, since that is what is happening on the ground. --Richardb 09:59, 28 May 2005 (UTC)
    • This is not what's happening on Wikipedia, where editors have had longer to work nationalism out of their systems. On Wikipedia, redirects are the order of the day, and complaints and duplicated material are rarities. I think the first proposal (don't duplicate content unnecessarily) is the better one. (Also note that while an automatic redirect might annoy a Briton, a manual "redirect" to find the most useful content, as this system proposes, would undoubtedly annoy one more.) --Quuxplusone 01:11, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
      • This isn't Wikipedia, though; we're talking about the words themselves -- including how they are spelled, even if it's a few letters off. 24 01:14, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
      • Wikipedia has very different issues to address. The titles of encyclopaedia articles are merely the topics discussed in the articles. The names of dictionary articles, in contrast, are the actual words, and theatre is a very different word from theater. Wikipedia solutions are inappropriate here. In fact, for most words where there are alternative spellings in United States English and Commonwealth English, the two words are almost entirely separate words. They have different etymologies, different pronunciations, different quotations, different histories, and (in several cases, such as the aforementioned theatre/theater) subtly different meanings. The whole idea of redirecting one spelling to the other is predicated on an idea that they are the same word, which is, lexicographically, an idea that is utter tripe. In reality, the words are different, and the articles should be (if done properly) very different in content. Uncle G 03:17, 31 May 2005 (UTC)
        • Can you give any examples of American/British differences in spelling due to "different etymologies, different pronunciations, different quotations, different histories, different meanings"? I'm certainly not advocating redirecting lift to elevator or boot to trunk — but I don't think honor and honour are "different words" with different meanings or etymologies; nor center and centre, theater and theatre, gemology and gemmology, nor any other word with 'u' dropped or 'er' switched. As has already been pointed out, it's trivially easy to add locality-specific remarks such as "gray (never grey) is an SI unit of absorbed radiation" or "Endeavour was Captain Cook's ship". (BTW, if this discussion should really be on the Talk page, feel free to move it there.) --Quuxplusone 00:53, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)
          • One example, as requested: Tire (US): 1; rubber thing on car attached to wheels, 2; to exhaust. Tyre (Brit): 1; rubber thing on car, 2; ancient city. Please observe that a redirect will not work, these words have to be defined separately. Traditional solution from dictionary publishers in the past is to have the entire dictionary formatted in one format (US or Commonwealth), then have exceptions. Example: A US dictionary would have an entry for 'Tyre' with the notation (brit. var. 'tire'). The problem with variant spellings is that everyone presumes the spelling in their nation is the only spelling that is the correct spelling, attempting to narrowly define their nationality as being 'right', while everyone else is wrong. The idea that both might be right for two different nations never occurs to anyone. For a good example of this idiocy, go to wikipedia and check out the various discussions regarding "Aluminum" and "Aluminium." --User:67.0.196.235
          • An example I can think of right off the top of my head is the typical use of fiber for computer engineers. Often the British spelling varient, fibre, is used to denote fibre optic cables even among American engineers. The history of this is a little obscure, and it isn't 100% used by professionals, but you will see it fairly often. The difference is usually to give a more exacting meaning to the word (like byte instead of bite or nybble instead of nibble). This is also done by computer professionals to piss off linguists, but that is another story altogether. -Robert Horning 15:54, 16 July 2005 (UTC)
            • I contest the validity of the asertion regarding fibre. I nor anyone I know has ever missued fibre in that way. We've had fiber for years, and I've never seen it misspelt as fibre as you say is "often." Furthermore, in computer programming in America, there are nibbles, not nybbles. --Connel MacKenzie 14:44, 19 July 2005 (UTC)
  • English spelling can be grouped into three main varieties: U.S. English, Commonwealth English (excl. Canadian English) and Canadian English. Commonwealth English (UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand...) has a broader scope and should therefore be used instead of British English when describing variants. Canadian English is a special case, because it uses both British and American spellings (colour, centre, travelling, aluminum, tire, to analyze). U.S. English should be used instead of American English, because it's more precise. TomBrown 15:04, 26 May 2005
    • Australian English is also like Canadian English, often accepting either US or UK spelling. And I'm sure that is increasingly so for many countries that have use English and have both UK and American influences. So I can't see any value in using the terminology "Commonwealth English". Either a word follows the UK/British spelling or the US spelling, or it's own particular way.--Richardb 09:58, 28 May 2005 (UTC)
      • Let's not sacrifice accuracy for the sake of typing convenience. An entry should be correct. That simple classificiation scheme ("U.K./U.S./other") is downright wrong. There are words that are general Commonwealth English because they are in the vocabulary of many Commonwealth countries (such as colour) and there are words that are more specifically as United Kingdom English (such as chav), Indian English (such as funda), and so forth, because they are mainly restricted to those countries. (Indeed, it's arguable that chav isn't even United Kingdom English, but specifically British English, since its use in Northern Ireland is largely only as the result of external sources, given that the local word is spide.) The "British/American" distinction is what is taught in schools to children. But it's one of the infamous lies to children. The subdivisions and distinctions are a whole lot more complex in actual fact, and I for one would like Wiktionary to give the real story rather than a simplification. (After all, Wikipedia attempts to describe the complexity, with articles on the many different Englishes, and Wiktionary is supposed to be its "lexical companion", and so should do nothing less.) This policy think-tank, talking as it does about "American or British Spelling", is in fact entirely ill-founded. Uncle G 03:17, 31 May 2005 (UTC)

Another proposal[edit]

I proposed this elsewhere, and I think it solves the problem of favo(u)ring one variant over another. Something like this was half-adopted and then seemed to be killed off.

Let's take the old chestnut colo(u)r as an example. Create a single page with both variants listed, possibly in alphabetical order to avoid claims of bias, perhaps as "color, colour". Put all details of both/all variants on this page. Make color and colour into redirect pages to this "dual page". All pages linking to "color" and "colour" will be redirected to the dual page.

Senses that have one spelling only in both languages but are not different words (such as "program", which is the spelling used on both sides of the Atlantic for "computer program") could be flagged as such, for example, as:

  1. (program) (computing) A computer program.

For pages such as "tire/tyre", put all common treatment on the dual page. Add a "see also tire" at the bottom of the page, which will treat the other senses of "tire" that are spelt this way in all forms of English. The page for "tire" will not be a redirect to "tire, tyre" in this case, but will have its own "see also" for the "tire/tyre" sense.

I think this would avoid transatlantic linguistic quarrel(l)ing, accusations of bias towards one particular flavo(u)r of English and unnecessary duplication of effort when a user sees that the spelling of a word in their form of English is missing and does not realise that the content is already at another spelling. — Paul G 11:34, 6 Jun 2005 (UTC)

  • I was following you up until the "program" example. I think the problem we're facing, and it's one we will continue to face and which will continue to get worse, is that the international forms of the language are drifting further apart while simultaneously bastardising each other. The wiktionary is an opportunity to overcome those differences while also keeping a record of changes over time. A "dual page" will not allow for the possibilities that "color" and "colour", to use your example may at one time both be used to mean different things (or at least I don't think it does). jonny 16:32, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)
    • Jonny, can you give an example of where a word means different things at one time? I don't understand what this means or see how it can be possible. Is it covered by my suggestion of how to treat "program"? Note that my proposal still allows for definitions that are particular to just one variety of English, such as "queue", which, in UK English, means a line of people waiting for something (US equivalent: "line"), while the computing sense (a FIFO data structure) is used in all varieties of English. This would look something like this, and is how we already treat this issue:
  1. (UK) A line of people waiting for something.
  2. A FIFO data structure.


What I dislike about the color, colour page concept, well a couple things actually. There are reasons this met fierce resistance when it was tried in the past. I do not like the way that it depends on the redirects not being messed with. I dislike the fact that the relevant data is no where near either spelling, but instead on some bastard page somewhere. I dislike the blaring headline that announces to the world that we can't figure out a decent way to agree that separate words (that are very closely related) are in fact separate words. I dislike the fact that not only does it not remove the which-comes-first issue but in fact exaggerates it, making it an even more prominent issue. I dislike this method's lack of flexibility (e.g. theater/theatre.) --Connel MacKenzie 17:39, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

But doesn't everything depend on stuff not being messed with? The "stuff" might vary, but the possibility of someone messing with something exists at all levels in Wiki. Personally, I think the "whichever was entered first" idea is not good. It might create an interesting race for those who are really concerned about a particular form of spelling being superior, but otherwise, it will lead to confusion (and increase the probability of flame wars). I say nix that proposal. -BrianD1 01:34, 17 Oct 2005 (UTC)

A modification to this proposal

Surely the best approach would be to enhance the software so that a page could have an 'include' entry which would cause the included test to appear on the same page.

Thus you would have a page for the headword 'Colour' and a page for the headword 'Color' and each of these pages would simply contain some code for 'include color::detail' which would then be appended but without its own headword.

That way, you look up 'colour', and there it is. Look up 'color' and there it is. No extra access for the user and everyone should be happy. —This unsigned comment was added by 87.113.84.92 (talkcontribs) at 10:10, 25 October 2006.

Discussions[edit]

Discussions on American and British spellings: