The Ize Have It

I don’t say it’s wrong, exactly, but it is faintly precious, this current British preference for the “s” over the “z.” A preference clearly on display for me these days, working with some writers from England.

They analyse, categorise, characterise, compromise, finalise, optimise, organise, pressurise, rationalise, and realise. If I object, they apologise.

I say “current preference” because, as it turns out, the Brits started with “z” in all those words.

The first example for the verb organize in the Oxford English Dictionary is from around 1425, from an English translation of a treatise on surgery written by the French physician Guy de Chauliac . . . The OED‘s earliest example for realize dates from 1611 . . The first recorded use of the verb with an ‘-ise’ spelling in the OED is not until 1755 ““ over a century later! – Oxford University Press

Citing some references from around the turn of the last century as the basis of its house style — which uses the “-ize” endings wherever possible — the Oxford University Press goes on to note why the “z” was the letter of choice in learned circles.

These early works chose the ‘-ize’ spellings as their preferred forms for etymological reasons: the -ize ending corresponds to the Greek verb endings -izo and ““izein.

Yeah, that’s usually how I resolve spelling issues: I go with the etymology. Or, you know, whatever I’m used to doing.

And yet, and yet . . . even though -ize was first out of the chute and has all the street cred that you’d expect, given that alignment with Greek roots, it seems to be fighting a rearguard action across the pond. The site suggests — a bit snarkily, I thought — that the Brits are following the path of least resistance, opting for the -ise ending just because there are some verbs that must be spelled like that.

And so — or so goes the theory, at any rate — they choose to colonise, equalise, fossilise, globalise, hospitalise, materialise, mechanise, minimise, normalise, personalise, philosophise, pressurise, revolutionise, standardize, sterilise, theorise, and (big breath here) visualise, because they have no choice but to advise, chastise, disguise, exercise, incise, and supervise.

Now, wait just a minute. I supervise, too, and yet I use -ize elsewhere without expending any special effort. And who says they have no choice about those other -ise words? Whilst I’m not buying this explanation, I am interested in the item just beside it on the shelf: the notion that it would be simpler to use one protocol. Why did I never think of this before?

So today I apprize you that I am exercizing my rights and raizing a suggestion, even outright advertizing it: an improvized yet wize approach to revizing our spelling protocols. I surmize that it will not lead to anyone’s demize: on the contrary, it will be easy to devize. I trust that you will not despize it.  Likewize, I trust you will not chastize me as lacking expertize, or require me to disguize myself in public. At first this change may cause some surprize, but when we all rize to the occasion, that sensation will wear off.

Indeed — when the ize have it — it may even seem like paradize.


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14 Responses to The Ize Have It

  1. Mike Taschuk says:

    Ow! My eze!

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Seems as though the Brits are wont to improvize! And not only on Brexit.

    By the way, when I plugged in that word “improvize” this site, preferring I suppose the American way, underlined the word and suggested spelling it with an s.

    Go figure.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – There’s some rule/explanation (that I don’t care enough about to track down) for why some words can take either and some have to take one or the other. Sometimes it gets to the point that all the spellings of these words look wrong to me.

  3. Jim Taylor says:

    Aha! First step on that road to Phonetic Spelling. After you’ve harmonized your s’s and z’s, you gt rid of that ridiculous “qu” with “k” which means that “q” can now be substituted for “th”….. Phonetic Spelling, unfortunately, assumed that everyone spoke without an accent — unlike the early versions of Dragon (voice dictation software) which seemed incapable of recognizing that Canadians did not speak like Texans — and failed to consider how to render British-speak, which dropped their “r’s” or perhaps their arse.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Yes, consistification is a False God in spelling. But fun to play with. Getting serious about it would be silly.

  4. Jim Powers says:

    You guys are funny.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim P – What, Canadians in general? Or us in particular? And I’m pretty sure that should be “guyz.”

  5. John and I are ahead of the game (as it were), if only to make a hard board game more interesting. We play Scrabble using ONLY phonetically spelled words. Thus, AHEDE, CERV, AGINE, INTRESTNG, PLA, GAIME, MOR, etc.
    Those are the simple ones…FONETICLI speaking. John gets away with no R’s at the end of some words, being British.

    Since there are far too many vowels in the game, we turned two of them into extra J & X (8, 10 pts). Made one of the A’s worth 50 points. Last night, trying it out for the first time, J scored 224 points in one turn. (We may have to rethink this…) Also, one gets an extra 50 points for going out first. Makes the game winnable even if you are behind throughout. We also don’t add up individual turn scores until the end.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – That’s the advantage of the board version of Scrabble – you can define your own game rules. I play an electronic version and it’s pretty persnickety. (With no right of appeal, to mix blog references.)

  6. John Hatchard says:

    ‘Vive la difference’ as the French, and maybe French Canadians, might say. Live and let live, or risk opening a lively can of linguistic worms! Time was when the English spoken on both sides of the Atlantic was the same and spelling too, even though it had hardly been standardised. It could be decidedly phonetic in those times.
    Q: Why do some members of the Royal Family prefer to say Ay instead of I while many in the rural or artisan communities say Oi?
    Q:How did Americans come to speak with a drawl that favours (?) the -ize ending while the English speak with a lighter quality that favours the -ise ending? Anyway, the -ise ending does look more aesthetically graceful in a word than the jagged Z.
    As I said – a can of linguistic worms, Isabel.
    Languages are as living as those who use it and usage changes as new words are used and ways of thinking change. And do not forget the influence of migrants with different languages and their attempts to assimilate.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Good points. I love the Texas vowels – sometimes I think they can’t say the “i” at all – “fired” comes out closer to “fard.” I didn’t know that our spelling patterns/preferences varied regionally within Canada until I worked with a fellow from Nova Scotia who complained about my American spelling – which was really just my Alberta roots showing. I think it’s true that Western Canadians lean more to the American choices, than do Maritimers, for example.

  7. You may claim “ize” is “paradize” because it is Canajun. Perhaps the maxim about a language “freezing” for 1000 years when it is taken across an ocean applies here. The Oxford CANADIAN Dictionary gives the “ize” endings as the preferred spellings in Canada. The propensity of this editor is to remain distinctively Canadian (45 years or so of editorial work has made Canadian English my default spellings), but it takes an effort to remain Canadian on the internet where spell checks inevitably are American and where some American readers may or surely will be put off by Canadian or British spellings. I wonder how long it will take to internetize the formerly English language.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I understand that Quebecois French sounds quaint to the French from France – something about vocabulary from the 17th century! I liken it to evolution, with little pockets getting cut off from the mainstream and either stalling or slowing in their development. Your point about the internet’s effect on language is a good one. I expect folks are studying its effects, as people from different linguistic backgrounds change the trajectory of English by using it in non-native-speaker ways.

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