Rogue Words from A to Z: Uncompromising Usage of U

A to Z Letter UToday, we will witness the epic battle between those who use u in their words and those who don’t.

One of my readers asked whether to use -o or -ou in color / colour. Both of these options are correct. American spelling favors the use of -o, while British spelling favours -ou. As a Canadian, I follow British spelling in my personal writing. But I’m used to seeing American spelling in books (even in some of my grade school spelling textbooks, which caused no end of grief for my teachers). If I were writing something strictly for an American audience, I would use -o.

One of my resource books, Editing Canadian English, has a handy list of all the words that have this -o / -ou difference. This book also points out how the u in -ou is dropped when suffixes like -ize and -ous are added to the end of a word. So we can argue about the spelling of vapor vs. vapour, but vaporize is always spelled without the u. It’s the same thing with humor vs. humour and humorous.

While looking into this question, I found a fascinating article about the origin of -o in American spelling. It seems we can blame Noah Webster of Webster’s Dictionary fame for deliberately introducing this spelling difference as a political statement. It boggles the mind that without the actions of this one man, we might all be spelling these words with -ou today.

And now for the fun part: Today’s story challenge, where I will attempt to use all of these contested words in — what else? — a story of knightly combat.

Sir A and Sir B may have been neighbors, but their demeanor as they faced each other on the tournament grounds was anything but favorable.

Sir A insisted that the harbor was part of his territory. Through the rigor of his labors, he had discovered that Sir B’s claim to this vital port was nothing but vapor.

Sir B complained with fervour that Sir A should not generate false rumours of ownership. He said that if Sir A had endeavoured to be honourable, Sir B would not have been forced to don his armour and prove his claim against Sir A on the battlefield.

As they started to fight, the clamor of the crowd rose, adding to the noise of the colorful pennants that fluttered and snapped in the wind. Many in the audience savored the odor of the meat pies that were being sold with vigor by the bakers to succor them. But they were even more hungry for blood.

Bavarian tournament engravingSir A and Sir B fought with valour. Their behaviour was knightly; they laboured to avoid the parlour tricks used by amateurs. As the fight continued, they grew to admire the splendour of each other’s combat techniques. Their ardour to confront each other waned. They realized that they were a perfect match for each other, and that there would be no winner in this fight.

Eventually Sir A called for a halt. “I cannot defeat you,” he said to Sir B with admirable candor.

“And it seems I cannot defeat you,” said Sir B with humour.

“Shall we conclude, then, that there is no glamor in this fight, and we should both withdraw?” asked Sir A.

“Gladly,” said Sir B.

The crowd booed and swelled down from the stands like a tumor, clearly meaning violence. Luckily the Queen was the saviour for the knights that day, and declared that honour was satisfied.

Sir A and Sir B decided to settle their remaining differences among the arbour, over a grand picnic lunch purchased at a discount from the disgruntled bakers.


Image from Wikimedia Commons

This post is dedicated to Nimmi. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will vivisect the villainous letter V…


© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015