American spellings -- or English?

A respected contributor to JIPLP, having received his proofs and being a little puzzled by some of the changes made to his submitted text, has written to me today to ask:
“Just as a matter of interest, may I enquire about the reasons for amending words such as characterised to characterized and emphasise to emphasize?”
Naturally, being aware of the leading role played by Oxford University Press in the maintenance of the highest standards of written English, he had taken great care to make sure that, in his spelling of verbs, the English "-ise" form was deployed rather than the American "-ize". Why then had his spellings been changed?

I asked this very question of the same publisher in 2003, when the same words – and others – were changed in the same manner. The response I received was that "-ize", rather than "-ise" was the Oxford University Press house style. When I objected that OUP was an English publisher but that this was an American style, I was curtly informed that it had been the OUP house style before the United States existed and that the publisher saw no reason to change it.


  1. You just had to prod the sleeping dragon, didn't you?!

  2. Given that, as Mark Summerfield has indicated, -iz- endings are no less English than -is- endings, there is a good commercial reason to use -iz- endings. The -is- ending is not recognized in the US, so it needlessly alienates a portion of the English-speaking audience. Where you have to worry—is when an English publisher starts using "American punctuation."

  3. You betcha that American honor centers on the notion that "size" matters.

    And when it comes to spelling, there's still a color bar.

    Maybe someone should authorize a debate between the House of Lords (now Americanized and misspelled as the "Supreme Court") and OUP.

    At least OUP's dictionaries now recognise the utilization of "ise".