Why Americans and the British Spell English Words Differently

By Casey Chan on at

Have you ever wondered why Americans and Brits spell English differently? How are colour and color the same word? Centre and center? What’s up with that?

It’s all thanks to Noah Webster (yeah, the Webster of Merriam-Webster). When America gained independence, Webster wanted to simply unreasonable spellings that were handed down from the British.

Webster went a little bit too far when he made his first dictionary though. He dropped silent letters so words like ‘determine’, ‘leopard’, and ‘soup’ became ‘determin’, ‘leperd’, and ‘soop’. Some of his spelling obviously never caught on but the break from proper English essentially started there. But some caught on like cutting U’s from ‘colour’ and ‘flavour’ and putting R’s after E’s in ‘centre’.

During that time, us Brits doubled down on their way of spelling and basically scorned at the new American way of spelling (though they did drop the -K in words like ‘magic’). We kept our spelling as the Americans changed theirs. It’s a fun bit of language history to learn about. Watch as Arika Okrent explains below.