October 24, 2007Foreign Affairs

British paper cuts American diplomats to size

And how a vast American conspiracy is undermining Indian English

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The Guardian has launched an American edition. But it’ll use proper English spellings, not American ones. What’s more, it promises to cut American diplomats down to size, not by referring to them as foggy bottoms though.

Guardian America, the US edition of the British newspaper, won’t use American spellings and punctuation. What will make it a Guardian publication will be its adherence to the Guardian stylebook, a volume that since the 1920s has gone through several editions and revisions and which is available in bookshops and here on the Guardian’s website.

Valour, behaviour, realise and programme therefore will prevail over valor, behavior, realize and program. Nor will there be the serial comma - sometimes known, pretentiously, as the Oxford comma - which is familiar to many American publications. You’ve noticed I left out the comma after realise - that’s where the serial comma would have been placed. Gone is much italicisation - and the z’ from many -isations. The Guardian is the Guardian, not The Guardian.

Perhaps most strikingly - and certainly most vexingly to Guardian America’s editor, who tells me he made his views clear to London, but with little success - a State Department official will have to live with the more flattened description of him- or herself as a state department official: the rule for capitalisation is to lower case when possible.

It’s the end of civilization, but civilisation, such as it is, will carry on. Not all Americans will welcome what they may consider this publication’s more relaxed style - a style the Guardian says is neither pedantic nor wild”, and one that is not meant to be deferential to people in power, such as state department diplomats. [Guardian America]On the matter of punctuation, spelling and style, thanks to American software, some ignorance and a general can’t-be-botheredness, English, as it is written in India is becoming terribly mixed up. We grow up with British spellings, and zed”, but thanks to those red squiggly lines (surely, a CIA-instigated conspiracy to undermine the independence of our foreign’ language policy) that arise from the default American English on computers, end up using American spellings. And zee” became the last letter of our English alphabet thanks to software engineers and call centre workers serving American customers. (Many of us didn’t know why that channel was called Zee TV back when it started. Realisation dawned when the American professor broke down the vector into its x”, y” and zee” components!)

Choice of spelling style shouldn’t matter for individuals, although it is good form to be consistent about it. What is entirely intolerable is when Indians refer to their states as provinces” while explaining political geography to foreigners. This is about as wrong as referring to your brother as your uncle.

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