Identity Crisis

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of

Spelling is complicated. When I was growing up, I spelled like an American because I was one. And because Americans owned the red pens and the stickers for my spelling tests.

How, I wondered when I first came to Canada, could the people seem so cultured and yet spell so poorly? Then I got a job. I deliberated with myself about the merits of intentionally learning to spell things incorrectly, but I have always been highly motivated by red pens and stickers. At first, the new favourite spelling system was a chore. I would stop half way through a word and sigh before going through with the desecration.

By the time I clamoured to the designated centre to get myself labelled a real Canadian, it was second nature. Far from humouring those for whom I laboured, it had become a matter of honour to spell things as any good Canadian would. I took my own high calibre red pen to work on my students’ papers . . . thirty kilometres south this would be fine, I noted –  here, it’s a misspelled word.

Enter the blog. What now? I say to myself. Most of the time I write in Word, then cut and paste to the blog. My computer, obviously Canadian, spells as I have told it to. When I go back and do my edits, the program that runs the blog, grabs its own red pen and yells, “We own the internet. Spell like an American.”

Dialogue ensues.

Me: Stop telling me what to do. I’m Canadian flavoured now. If you want to get snippy, I’m still American enough to fight about it.

Other Me: There are more Americans than Canadians. Maybe you should spell like an American. If you ever sell something, they’ll be the ones to write the checks.

Me: Blog readers are split half and half and that doesn’t count the people in Europe. When the cheques arrive, I’ll take it under advisement.

Other Me: What about the Mexicans? Or the Koreans? What kind of spelling do they like?

Me: I have no idea. We don’t make our decisions based on what other people think, remember? We don’t colour our hair if we don’t feel like it, even if everyone else thinks it’s just marvellous.

Other Me: Maybe you should spell American. Everybody else you mentioned at least knows that there are various ways to spell things. Americans might have the hardest time coping with something foreign to them. Consider it a meager attempt to be neighborly.

Me: Forget it. This is gruelling. It’ll be half Canadian, half American. Even in the same document. A little of this and a little of that. No rhyme. No reason.

Other Me: This explains why if a group of any ten of your friends were asked what your last name is, three different answers would be forthcoming.

Me: Let’s not over analyse. I’m beginning to feel like an axe.


7 Comments to Identity Crisis

  1. Esther J Cann says:

    I feel your pain, dear! That’s why I have a hard time spelling in any language. =(

  2. Cindy says:

    Yes – this is a conundrum! What I haven’t figured out is how my children (who are only American on paper, albeit legal) have adopted my American spellingisms. They have never for a moment been schooled in the USA (for that matter neither have I :-) but somehow these mixed up u/o/r placements have become a permanent, if not regular, part of our spelling. My youngest and I were just pondering this very thing the other day!

  3. Samuel Jones says:

    Clearly this very dilemma is what caused me to return to the USA….that and my competive drive told that it makes it easier to win at scabble if I spell it the American way…not enough u’s in the stack

  4. Dee says:

    Sam, good point! You could, of course, use whichever spelling will put you right in the centre over the triple word square.

  5. Dee says:

    Good point, Sam. You could, however use whichever puts you right in the centre over the triple word square.

  6. Missy Friedl-Shipley says:

    This one cracked me up! When I was working for my former employer words were missed spelled in the manuals and that was the official spelling we had to use. Once while sending an official message via super secret computers I used colour grey and got wrote up. I laughed after the initial anger subsided. Most of the people I worked with barely made it through high school and they were correcting me who would ace college Lit & Writing classes (getting better grades than those who were majoring in it)!