Thursday, 10 December 2009

IZE versus upstart ISE

One of my favourite Muriel Spark novels is A Far Cry from Kensington, with a backdrop of London publishing in the 1950s. (It also tells you all you need to know about losing weight: the heroine realizes she is grossly fat, starts eating the same as before, but half, until she reaches a normal size). There is a blackmailer in the book, who is identified by his unusual spelling of 'organizer'. He spells it 'organiser'.

Not so long ago in England, all words incorporating the Greek suffix ize, were spelled with a z; so realize, civilize, ostracize. Other words like surprise, advise and surmise, having no connection with the Greek suffix, were not spelled with a z.

I stick to the traditional spelling, which also has the advantage of lessening the gap between us and Americans (damn that Webster). But so prevalent has the ise variant become, that I am often told off for 'using American spelling'.

The Oxford University Press and I are as one on this. Can I persuade anyone to join us?


  1. Yay!

    I fear it may be a losing battle, as it's easier to use ise all the time than remember which is which.

  2. You have my vote (if only because I'm an American and already spell those ize words that way).

    The bother about grammar is that it changes constantly. Shakespeare changed words in his day. There's the rub...

  3. Yes, true; and we all have changes we are okay with and others we abhor.

    I'm fine with new words which serve a purpose, such as 'hospitalized'. I accept that my daughter says toilet where I say lavatory. I'm less happy with changes for no reason, like 'alright' instead of 'all right' or the erosion of the distinction between 'uninterested' and 'disinterested'.

    The vital thing is for words to communicate as well as possible; and for that we need consistency.

  4. We also need people to be educated properly!

    You already know you can count on my vote, Lexi. I remember so clearly being told by a ywo reviewer that if I was English I should stop using American spellings. I also remember how you joined me in attempting to educate the reviewer concerned.

    I blame an American! Bill Gates, and his spell checker on Word, is the culprit. Well, one of them.

    Z is now the underdog and we should start a campaign to 'Save the Z'.

  5. Hi Anna!

    Z is one of my favourite letters. X is good, too.

  6. Lexi, one of my schoolteachers was a member of the campaign to preserve the Z, and ever since I've tooted the horn for it.

    I wasn't aware of the Spark, but I do remember an episode of Inspector Morse, where Morse uses exactly the same logic, saying of the use of "ise" "it's illiterate"

  7. Yay!

    Any other IZERS out there?