Color or Colour? Spelling as a Political Act

If you’re an English learner, you may be annoyed  at (bothered by) the differences in spelling in American English and British English.

We Americans use “color” and the British use “colour.”

We write “realize” and they write “realise.”

You might think that these differences have simply come about (resulted) naturally over time, but in fact, the changes were intentional (done with intent; not an accident) and largely political.

Noah Webster was probably the biggest influence on how Americans spell today. Webster was a fascinating (very interesting) man. Most Americans know him for his dictionaries. He published his first dictionary in 1806 and later published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1826.

In fact, the name “Webster” is today synonymous with (has the same meaning as) dictionaries to many Americans. (The Webster dictionary is published today under the name of Merriam-Webster.)

Webster lived between 1758 and 1843, and took part in the American Revolution (the war to become independent of Britain). He knew two of the great heroes of that revolution, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. In addition to being a dictionary writer, he was also very political.

He wrote essays, letters, and pamphlets (short printed documents) that expressed his views about the need for the American colonies to break (separate themselves) from Britain.

He believed that a part of that break should be to establish an American brand of (type of) English. He thought that American children should learn from American books, not British ones.

Webster published A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, which included a reader (with short texts), a grammar book, and a speller (a list of rules on how to spell words, including word lists). Webster made many changes to spelling in his speller because he thought that British English spelling had been corrupted (changed in a bad way) by British aristocracy (highest class of people in society).

Webster wanted to standardize (make consistent by following rules) the spelling of English and simplify it (make it easier). The speller was later renamed The American Spelling Book and was widely (frequently) used by teachers around the country. It was later known as the Blue-Backed Speller.

It was through Webster’s speller and his dictionaries that American children learned American spelling, so that “theatre” became “theater,” “aeroplane” became “airplane,” and the last letter of the alphabet came to be pronounced “zee” instead of “zed,” as the British still do today.

In the end, politics played a big role (was a large part of the reason) in the establishment of American English.

Who knows how English spelling will change when California secedes (withdrawals officially) from the United States and forms its own country?

~ Jeff

P.S. Don’t confuse Noah Webster with another famous American, Daniel Webster. They were not related (not of the same family). Daniel Webster was a famous lawyer and politician in the 19th century, and also the topic of this short story sometimes read in American schools.

Image Credit: From Wikipedia
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6 Responses to Color or Colour? Spelling as a Political Act

  1. Tania says:


    I miss you all.


  2. Florian says:

    Dear Jeff,

    I was listening today to the 1305th episode, where you explain some goodbye expression.

    Please don’t tell me it was really the final episode.


  3. Peter says:

    I have always been like ,America make up your mind
    Is it color or colour?
    Is it
    Often or often ( t : silence ) ?

    I am on the clock, people, at the moment

    But ,I will get back to you at a later time

    thanks eslpod for bringing it up

    Not a moment too soon ,though


  4. Peter says:


    What are you saying Florian

    Is esloid packing it in ?

    Are they seriously considering to shutter the windows


    We had a good run eslpod


  5. Peter says:

    For the entire runtime of the episode 1305 ,I could not believe my ears.
    As it seems , Eslpod is actually departing.

    It is huge !!!

    It is the end of an era.

    Man ,
    I can not get a grip of what is happening here.

    I need time for the bombshell to sink in.

    I mean,I can’t wrap my head around the fact that eslpod is leaving us.

    Unless ,it is a prank. Is it jeff ?

    Man, I m so wont to listen to you guys and read the subsequent learning guide records

    Dear jeff
    U r very terse in the episode finally vis a vis eslpod’s departure.

    There are still tons of questions running around my head.

    Are the episodes still available ?
    Are you taking them off the internet ?

    Eslpod is leaving us with a good punch, though
    The episode finally is very educational and rich !!!

    How about blog ?
    Are u taking it down too ?

    Dear jeff and Lucy
    I have always enjoyed the episodes and I took away a lot from eslpod.

    It is a pity you are leaving us.

    Well it has never been a never-lasting story,has it ?

    Thanks Lucy for the heart that you put in producing the lessons.

    Are u saying ,it is it ?

    Is it the end eslpod ?

    Has eslpod stoped its productions.


    It is a sad ,sad ,sad day

    P.S chief
    Would u at least tell us in a blog post that what do u plan to do with eslpod archives ?

    Dear jeff

    Is the any way we could still have access to the episodes ?


  6. emiliano says:

    Tania, I am happy having news from you.
    I have been really very worried about you and your health my dear friend.
    It is the best of the day, just reading your post my dear Tania.

    How are you?
    What happens?

    Please tell me, my mail is:


Comments are closed.