There is a war of words raging across the globe. The opposing forces are, on one side, the entire North American continent, and a battalion of etymology experts at the Oxford University Press (with support from The Oxford English Dictionary). And on the other side . . . me.
Our argument is over the letter Z in words like organization, analyze, realize and finalize. Except those aren’t proper words, they are misguided attempts to spell organisation, analyse, realise and finalise. There are around 200 English language verbs affected by this.
I’ll take on my opponents one by one.
1. The Americans. They don’t seem to have a good reason to use Zs in these words. They’ll tell you “they just do” and that seems to be enough for them. Bless their cotton socks, they are simple folks in the colonies.
2. Etymologists. This bunch believe -ize is the correct suffix because it corresponds to the Greek root “-izo” of most -ize verbs. This might sound convincing until it occurs to you: “Wait a minute, we don’t speak Greek in this country”. They will then tell you, ah, but words with a Latin origin are more likely to end -ise. Again, I can see you swaying towards the assertion that there might be good reason for two methods of spelling. But hold fast, sir! Not only do we not speak ancient Greek, we don’t speak Latin either.
3. The Oxford English Dictionary. They say that -ize endings to words is a venerable habit that started in Britain in the 15th Century, before Americans were invented. And that no verb is recorded with an -ise ending until 1755. This might seem beguiling until you remember that ye olde wayes of fpelling from ye 15th Century aren’t much used these days.
What most annoys me most about the OED, however, is that in their expensive and weighty dictionaries they give both endings. They list “Organization, or organisation, noun, the action of organizing”. How can there be two spellings of a word?
Spelling should have conventions that make sense. When you pronounce it, the S in words like “has” or “was” sounds like a Z. But you wouldn’t write the words as haz or waz. And you wouldn’t write advize, practize, or televize.
Dictionaries exist to guard against making such mistakes, don’t they? If they are going to list conflicting ways of spelling words, what is the point of a dictionary?
Word of the week
prickly or thorny. EG. “The placement of Z in words where it doesn’t belong leads us into senticous territory.”
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at email@example.com