American vs British English foolishness

Richard A Downing FBCS geek109 at
Mon Oct 6 00:08:59 PDT 2003

On Mon, 06 Oct 2003 09:15:15 +0800
Steve Bougerolle <steveb at> wrote:

Nice clear exposition.  This seems credible, so I, for one,
submit.  From now on I shall standardize (unless I forget).

> Now an indisputable bit of poor American English is the way
> they misuse"meter" for the unit "metre".  A meter is something
> you use to measure gas or electricity.  Metres are lengths.

I think 'meter' was first used to mean the metric cadences of
poetry and song. Because this same time-based measurement was
used for early 'meters' the name has stuck to all metering
devices.  A lot of people here insist on the metre spelling for
this too.

A 'metre' is (was, pre SI) the length of a platinum-iridium
alloy rod in a vault in Sevre, France.  It was put there by
Napoleon (or on his orders anyway).  So it's a French
import word, hence the French spelling.

In fact orthographic spelling (a common, or even official version
of everything spelling-wise) was not widespread until cheap
printing for the masses caught on. Hence, anyone reading a 15C
english manuscript needs to read it aloud to find out what's

The other problem is that pronunciation has changed for all of
us since the 16C when we started diverging (as do all language
groups when they are separated by geography). We still have a TV
presenter (from Burnley in the North West of England) here who
says wa-hole, when pronouncing 'whole'(often misspelt by
Americans as 'hole').  And often an understanding of how words
were pronounced when the orthograthic spelling was fixed helps
understand that spelling.

So no language war today   :))

Cheers, Richard

Richard A Downing FBCS

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