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Yesterday my little sister did something I thought was rather strange. She was typing a comment to someone on the internet and used the word “colour”, since she was talking about graphics. Then she mused, “No, these are Americans, I might as well simplify everything and use American English,” and deleted the U.

For a while I was dumbfounded. “What?!”

“Well, seeing as they’re all Americans, I thought I’d make everyone’s lives easier and just spell words their way.”

I spent the next ten minutes explaining that:

  1. Americans are going to understand what the word “colour” means just fine, even if they don’t spell the word that way.
  2. No, it is not even going to take them a second to “translate” the word. Do we need a second to translate the word “color”? No? Then they won’t either (unless they’re really, really sheltered I guess).
  3. It is actually MORE bother to type “colour” then go back and delete the U, than simply to leave it there. And it doesn’t save the Americans any bother either, because as points #1 and #2 state, they’re going to know what the word means.
  4. She didn’t even know the person she was typing the comment to was American. She was only guessing. For all she knew, this person came from one of the multitude of countries in which “colour” is spelt with a U, and then her efforts would have been completely counter-productive.

My sister was unimpressed and eventually retorted, “Why do you even care?!” Hmm. Good question.

I replied, “Because you’re not being very patriotic!”

…then she gigglesnorted at the idea that I would care about others’ lack of patriotism. I admit it may seem unlikely. But it’s not that I’m not patriotic, I’m just patriotic in a joking-around, inconsequential way. For instance, I refuse to pay attention to rugby because that’s not what good Victorians do. Victorians follow football. As it happens I don’t really follow football either, and even when I do my team is based in Sydney, but hey, at least I don’t follow rugby! (Besides, I don’t support the team I do because they’re based in Sydney. I support them because for generations it was family tradition to support the South Melbourne Swans, and even when they relocated the tradition lived on. So there.)

Okay, that wasn’t a very good example. But you know what is a good example? My dedication to using Australian English.

I’m Australian, and I don’t mind people knowing I’m Australian. I know Australia has a bad reputation in some circles, but the people who make up those circles should get over their ignorant delusions. Australia has some bad people, like any other country, but we also have some great people, like any other country. Perhaps admitting that your country has similar proportions of “good” and “bad” people to other countries is a patriotism fail in itself, but whatever. The point is, Australia is my country. Whether or not it’s better or worse than anywhere else is irrelevant, because it’s mine.

I was born and raised here, so I speak and am literate in Australian English. I don’t see any reason to use any other form of English. Why? Anyone who can understand English can understand Australian English. Perhaps not Strine, but Strine is something completely different and I don’t really understand it myself. Australian English is spelling words the British way, unless the word is “program”, and using a few words that might not be used in other countries, like “whinge” or “bludge” (which both got underlined in red in my browser, by the way — so much for having an Australian English dictionary). If someone is really worried that an Australianism won’t be understood, they can use a different word.

Refusing to use the language you’ve been raised to speak strikes me as taking cultural cringe too far. Fair enough if you want to cringe against the yobbo stereotype — the anti-intellectual, anti-culture, sports-obsessed, possibly violent drunkard — or more seriously, against the racist aspects of our history. But our language? Why? What’s wrong with it?

It’s not that Australian English is any better than any other form of English. But it’s ours, it’s legitimate, and we should use it.

Just to be clear, my sister’s response doesn’t seem to have been cultural cringe. She actually changed the word she’d typed back to “colour” not long into my ten-minute explanation, realising how utterly pointless it was to have changed it the first time. Maybe it was equally pointless to change it back, but what does that matter? At least it was patriotic, in an inconsequential way.

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One Comment

  1. Good for you. I think that it’s great to be proud of where you are from and to spell words the way that they are meant to be spelled. I remember I actually had a similar conversation once with my husband who is a New Zealander (I’m from New York) and he was joking me about the fact that I didn’t spell favorite with a u in it. We actually came to the same conclusion you did and now we just spell the words the way that we learned to spell them and speak the language the way we learned to speak it.


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