Colour Me Canadian


So, the weekend has passed and again, a topic that has never gone out of style is the issue of Canadian spelling, that is, how it’s different from American spelling. For the most part, we Canadians pretty much write the same way as our southern cousins. There are always a few exceptions, and interestingly enough, our language’s mother country of Britain seems to be influenced in part by the prevailing Americanisms in spelling. That’s worth another blog later.  These rarities, as I like to call them because there are few, but that’s exactly why they call attention to themselves, we can blame in part to Noah Webster. Yes, the same gentleman who gave us the Webster Dictionary. Not to be outdone, Oxford now has the Oxford Canadian Dictionary. So there, Mr. Webster.  Take for example the word colour. I just spelled that with -our. My American friends, thanks to Mr. Webster in his angst against Britishisms, and perhaps the typeset need of fewer letters, but moreso I think because it further differentiated American from British spelling, and thus independence, spell that word as color, sans ‘u’. Alright then. Surely, by the spelling alone the pronunciation doesn’t change. Surely, the American version is less one letter. All I know is that it doesn’t make it better. Case in point. Me. Seven years old. Grade 2. I was on Christmas vacation in Washington State in a small town of a few hundred people at best, which is where my grandmother lived. Over the holiday it was my homework to learn a list of words including that oddball ‘colour’. Well, in my haste in packing I had forgotten that list, but I did remember that one word. I asked grama, “how do you spell colour?”, to which she answered “c-o-l-o-r.” I was planning on acing that spelling test upon my return to the Great Canadian North. To my horror, there was a big, fat red X next to my perfectly spaced memorized word. What? “Excuse me, but I asked my grama and she said this is right.” That was my first lesson into the differences of the usually shortened versions of those rarities of American words. Blast! Fie! Here are some more exceptions, and I, you should note, refuse to Americanize too much my dig-in-my-heels traditionalism with regards to Canadian spelling, which harkens back to British ways. Well, without digressing too much on the whats and wherefores of that history, here are some words to watch out for, and by no means a complete list. You’ll notice a pattern with the endings including -our in place of -or, -re instead of -er, -ue where there may be nothing, and which derives from French, but not because we have Quebec, amongst others.

The Canadian Version,    American

amongst, among

colour, color

centre, center

metre, kilometre, centimetre; meter, kilometer, centimeter

candour, candor

catalogue, catalog

cheque (the one for the bank), check

counsellor, counselor

demeanour, demeanor

flavour, flavor

grey, gray

honour, honor

labour, labor

licence, license

modelling, modeling

yogourt, yogurt



For a more complete list, and a site I recommend to my students, visit


2 thoughts on “Colour Me Canadian

    • There isn’t a true Canadian spell check, not if we’re talking about the American made Microsoft Word. In that program, however, you can add words in as you go along if set to “ignore” –great, I already feel deficient. To counter the American English dominance that is web pervasive, I suggest using the old fashioned flip-through-the-pages dictionary, but not, of course, one by Webster. Two suggestions: (and I may have to update this later) for the print form dictionary –get Oxford. Yes, it’s British based, but they so kindly identified a wanting market for Canadian spelling. The other is by Collins, which as I recall, may have been usurped by the competition, or disintegrated in the market of these in-demand items. I’ll check up on that. The last option, of course, is to talk to an editor (raises arm into the air, ‘me, me!!’), preferably one sensitive to this issue. Hope that helps!

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