Wikipedia talk:Manual of Style/Spelling/Archive 5

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How to treat spelling conflicts in the lead paragraph

Many articles have to deal with the issue of differing spelling in different parts of the world. I've noticed that some users are getting rid of the AmE and BrE notations and putting in a single link to American and British English differences instead. I object to this because it actually creates more confusion. A reader not totally familiar with either dialect (a child or a nonnative English speaker) would have to read the gigantic "differences" article to find out which term is used by which dialect, when it is simpler to just indicate that information in parentheticals in an article lead. For example, Curb (road) in its current version has no indicator that kerb is British and curb is American. I know which is which because I'm American, but a French or Spanish teenager learning English in secondary school might not. The point is, we need to have a consistent policy on this. Either the "differences" article has to get a lot shorter, which is probably not going to happen because so much of its content is true and essential, or we should simply show dialect origins in the lead paragraph (or paragraphs) as necessary.--Coolcaesar 17:19, 8 July 2006 (UTC)

To clarify: The problem is, with the link, we force users to read the entire article just to find what they are looking for, when they could have simply obtained the desired information in two seconds from a parenthetical notation. Yes, some browsers have a "Find" feature, but I've noticed from watching less experienced computer users that they are usually unaware of the Find feature, and it would clog up the "differences" article to put directions on how to use that feature in the lead paragraph. Plus it varies significantly from browser to browser, with Explorer using a modal dialog box while Firefox uses a toolbar. And Find doesn't work really well for blind or disabled users.

As a lawyer, I'm trained to read long, dense documents full of text that makes the eyes glaze over, and even I have difficulty sorting through the mess in the dialect differences article! --Coolcaesar 17:26, 8 July 2006 (UTC)

Perhaps the information can be kept in a footnote? (I know I've turned extended remarks into alternate names for the subject into footnotes before.) It will keep the lead relatively uncluttered while still providing an easy reference on the subtleties. Kirill Lokshin 18:09, 8 July 2006 (UTC)
Footnotes are generally deprecated for things like this. But Coolcaesar, you are defending the indefensible.

1. In many cases, saying which dialect uses which spelling is not so simple (e.g. yogurt).

2. Wikipedia is not a dictionary.

3. Appropriate articles deal with spelling differences, so why fragment the info across articles?

4. Spelling regional indicators would uselessly clutter up the article with irrelevant information that would just sidetrack the reader. Basically everyone who looks up curb or kerb doesn't give a damn about spelling.

5. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, for example, doesn't have anything like that.

6. Nonnative English speakers? Following the spelling differences link, learners of English (even children, FTM) would just strike it rich---that page is a GOLD MINE for them.

7. The "spelling differences" links save space.

8. Just clicking on the "what links here" button on the spelling difference page you will ultimately find all the articles whose names feature spelling variations.

9. Is there really anyone who is unaware of the "Find" feature? Come on, even Notepad has it.

JackLumber. 19:30, 8 July 2006 (UTC)

A few selected responses:
1. It is precisely in those cases that a more extended discussion is of interest to readers.
2. This is usually interpreted quite narrowly. Once we have an article that goes beyond a dictionary definition, there is nothing preventing us from mentioning issues of terminology and linguistics insofar as they relate to the topic.
5. Well, of course it doesn't. Britannica, being a British publication, uses the associated spelling rules exclusively.
6. It's also quite long and full of irrelevant information.
7. Footnotes would save even more. This is hardly the best argument for anything.
8 & 9. "What links here" and "Find" generally work quite poorly when an article is printed. Kirill Lokshin 19:42, 8 July 2006 (UTC)
1. No, it is not. The average reader interested in yogurt doesn't give a damn if the Canadian Oxford Dictionary prioritizes yogourt but Canadians normally use yogurt. But if the reader is interested s/he has just to check out the _appropriate_ article, to wit, spelling differences.
2. The caveat is, they relate to the topic only in few cases (e.g. aluminium---in such articles, a note on spelling IS desirable). They mostly don't.
5. The Encyclopedia Britannica company is American, and its encyclopedia is the best. It just says, "colour also spelled color" or something like that.
6. Not to learners of English. And whippersnappers who learn English usually know how to use the Find whatchamacallit.
7. No they definitely wouldn't, any. How can you say that?
8 & 9. Why print the article? If you _REALLY_ want to know which dialect uses which spelling, go to the damn page, save it, and possibly search it offline, if you are on dial-up. But you can print the page you get by clicking on "What links here"---again, if you _REALLY_ are interested.
JackLumber. 20:00, 8 July 2006 (UTC)
1. Not the average reader, perhaps; hence the idea of having a footnote.
5. Current corporate affiliations aside, Britannica does still follow British style guides. (And the quality is, of course, a matter of much debate ;-)
7. Because you're replacing several words ("see spelling differences") with a single number ("1"). Space at the bottom of the article for the footnote itself is irrelevant, in my opinion; good articles tend to have so many footnotes that a few more or less will make no difference at all.
8 & 9. Well, suppose you're planning to, say, publish a print edition of Wikipedia? (Or even a WikiReader, for those who prefer more immediate results?) Kirill Lokshin 20:15, 8 July 2006 (UTC)
1. Well, those who want to know how a word is spelled usually look it up in a dictionary. Anyway, the information is not lost, it's just located at its natural place.
5. Yes, but that doesn't impact the scenario. Maybe in a few years people will regard Wikipedia as the best?...
7. The footnote does not save space as far as bytes go, which is what matters most. And this shows up when you consider all such articles together---along with information duplication. Indeed, you would be forced to write out all the variant spellings twice (not to prioritize one variant over the others: e.g. A yogurt, yogourt, yoghourt, or yogourt --- footnote: yogurt is used in American English and to a lesser extent in British English; yoghourt is usual in the Commonwealth except Canada, where yada yada yada.) Kinda cumbersome. Additionally, overemphasizing differences in spelling or language can lead to unwanted jingoistic run-ins, and doesn't help regard English as one language. If an article reads, say, "color (American English) or colour (British English - or Commonwealth, whatever it means)," it looks like color and colour are two different words, or even two different languages.
8 & 9. There's a long long ways to go. Many articles heavily hinge on multimedia features, and in the future many others will, and even more. And in case, the "spelling differences" link would simply turn into a cross-reference.
JackLumber. 21:27, 8 July 2006 (UTC)
1. There's no particular reason why the information can't be in two places at once. Nobody is disupting that the spelling differences article should contain a full list of differences, but it may be useful to readers to also have this information directly in the article they're viewing.
If they are in two places, they must be kept consistent. This takes work .
7. Bytes don't matter in the least (except for the case where an increase in page size would cause browser loading problems, but these have been eliminated in all but the most bizarre and antiquated browsers. What matters is space on the screen and words in the text (particularly words which interrupt the natural flow of a sentence); disks are so dirt cheap, however, that actual storage space isn't an issue we need even consider. (The issue of jingoistic run-ins is a rather separate one, and of somewhat broader scope than emphasizing spelling differences. I would actually think that giving some space to fully document all the various options would lead to less confrontation than arbitrarily picking some particular usage.) Kirill Lokshin 22:26, 8 July 2006 (UTC)
1. It may, but it may be not too, as per 1, 2, and 4 in my original post. Those who care follow the link---such people might be curious to learn more about spelling differences too, so the link would be doubly useful to them. Plus, fragmented information is less maintainable---e.g., it may lead to sneaking inconsistencies.
7. Three words between parentheses are as disrupting as a footnote. Alternately, we can write
'''Colour''', [[spelling differences|also spelled]] '''color''', yada yada,
that is,
Colour, also spelled color, yada yada.
A particular usage sure is to be picked, but not arbitrarily; a reader should be cross-referenced to the MoS for such things. Users should be aware that 1) there's just one English language, and 2) spelling rules are not as hard-and-fast as somebody might think. Do you want to explain every time the -ize/-ise thing for such articles as caramelization? I've been told that Australians are taught that -ise is British spelling and -ize is American spelling. (!) Somebody thinks that -ise is the "Commonwealth" spelling. (!!) Somebody thinks that -ize endings were invented by Webster (!!!!!) and somebody even put that up on wikipedia (!!!!!!) If one wants to know the truth, s/he has just to follow the link. JackLumber. 23:03, 8 July 2006 (UTC) Gotta go now. Bye. ;-)
Meh, fair enough; your suggestion ("Colour, also spelled color...") is probably the cleanest way of doing this. I would still encourage people to not rely solely on the central article, though; in the cases where there may be significant points to be made about dialectic differences (aluminium, which you mentioned, likely being the canonical case; but there are probably others), having this material directly in the article (in a footnote or otherwise) is still appropriate. Kirill Lokshin 23:11, 8 July 2006 (UTC)

← There are many good reasons why I believe that a more neutral description of spelling differences in the opening of WP articles should become part of our Manual of Style. Jack Lumber has named a lot of them, and I would like to add three (well, give numbers to points made elsewhere in one form or another in this discussion), and expand on one of his:

1. In many cases, saying which dialect uses which spelling is not so simple (e.g. yogurt). It's not just many cases, largely because of the delightfully flexible spelling habits of Canadians. It's not often that a spelling choice can be described as U.S. vs. "rest of native English-speaking world" (and saying just "rest of world" makes the problem even more complicated, of course.

10. There has, in fact, already been a natural tendency to adopt this method of referencing spelling differences. So there has been a natural Wikipedia community move in this direction anyway. Go to [1] and start looking up the words listed there in Wikipedia. (But I've made a few of the changes to the way the differences are described, so discount those.)

11. The "Link" method is ultimately more instructive.

Is an article intended to teach English usage, or to inform about the subject? DGG 08:25, 18 September 2006 (UTC)

12. The "Link" method is, or at least appears to be, less normative. By this I mean: the "humor or humour" version of the description (or "also spelled" version -- not quite as good in my view, see below) of spelling differences means that the description doesn't take on any hint of the form "Normal / non-normal." This will perhaps help our community -- if only in some small way -- become less divided. More importantly, the larger, non-native-English speaking world will be less inclined to feel forced into a choice of "Normal or British English" or (depending) "Normal or American English." I believe in letting spelling "be free." Kinda goofy, perhaps, but I think it's a Good. Giving the impression -- which, ultimately, is entirely accurate, notwithstanding odd changes occasioned by the use of word processers -- that spelling is not cast in stone seems like a good idea. It might even get WP orthographic imperialists and orthographic obsessives (I'm one of the latter, to be sure) to reconsider their positions. Who knows!

My preference is the way the Color page currently is set up:

Color or colour (see spelling differences)

But I'd be perfectly happy with a footnote.

The "also spelled" version I could live with, but many people will (incorrectly, true, but that doesn't matter) think of the "also spelled" variant as less normal or normative. The main point, though is number 1 above. The existing, "... in American English"/"... in Commonwealth English" descriptions of the spelling differences are simply false in almost all cases. We should all be able to agree that that's a problem. --Cultural Freedom talk 2006-07-11 10:37 (UTC)

So, how about the following change to the MoS:


  • If the spelling appears in an article name, you should:
  • make a redirect page to accommodate the other variant, as with Artefact and Artifact;
  • list both spellings in the lead sentence of the article, with a link to the Wikipedia page about English spelling differences, as follows.

Color or colour (see spelling differences) is a property of light that is determined by its ...

which can be produced by typing:
'''Color''' or '''colour''' (see [[spelling differences]]) is a property of light that is determined by its ...
  • when possible and reasonable, a neutral word might be chosen as with stevedore.
  • when the question of spelling is unusually complicated, such as with aluminum, a "Note on spelling" or "Etymology/Nomenclature history" section can be included in the article itself, with a parenthetical note in the first line of the article referring to the section.
Aluminium is a problem for additional reasons--as mentioned in that article, it affects the pronumciation, and at once disloses where one's chemistry had been learned. DGG 08:25, 18 September 2006 (UTC)


We could make it "list both spellings (or all, where there are three or more)..." but that might be unnecessarily complicated. As for ize/ise differences, that might not be worth saying anything about, until confusion/debate arises about it.

--Cultural Freedom talk 2006-07-11 19:19 (UTC) P.S. I'm using :* to make the last two indented bullets because I don't know how to prevent a new line from turning an indented bullet into two bullets, but someone else surely knows how to do this!

Here's my response to JackLumber's response above: You're failing to think through carefully what's helpful to Wikipedia's users. Have you ever actually tutored young children in reading? Most children (under the age of 14) do not have the reading skill or attention span to read the entire spelling differences page, especially when much of it is not relevant to the one particular difference they would be interested in.
A child who is interested in spelling (e.g. color vs. colour) either looks it up in a dictionary or in the very spelling differences article. A child who looks up color on WP most likely wants to know more about color. I said above that WP is not a dictionary—yet Webster's 3rd (America's No. 1 dictionary) deals with regional variant spellings in exactly the same way as we suggest.
As for adults, most adults would consider reading the entire spelling differences page to be a tangent into linguistics and therefore a waste of time. Keep in mind that Wikipedia, like all Web sites, is competing for people's eyeballs and more importantly, their precious time. Only retirees, homeless people, and unemployed people have time to burn (children have homework and extracurricular activities nowadays). Nearly all people consider linguistics to be mind-numbingly boring, including myself before I went to college and studied philosophy. Try striking up conversations with random people in public about linguistics and see how they like it (they tend to flee).
Hm. Either you're kidding me or you can't read. Quoting myself, "Spelling regional indicators would uselessly clutter up the article with irrelevant information that would just sidetrack the reader. Basically everyone who looks up curb or kerb doesn't give a damn about spelling." Those who are interested in spelling differences sure will find the time to check out the article where the related information is kept. Children sure will find the time. Otherwise they'd just look it up in a cottonpicking dictionary.
If I am a roadgeek interested in roads, I would be interested in knowing that kerb is British and curb is American in five seconds and that's it. I do not want to spend 25 minutes reading the entire spelling differences article! The same argument goes for nonnative speakers, who may be living in countries with lower living standards and thus would be even more constrained for time.
Yes, so you'd write "curb is U.S. and kerb is UK." Then someone changes it to "curb is U.S. and kerb is Commonwealth" (which is false). Then someone else, "curb is U.S. and kerb is International English" (which is improper). Enter another customer, "curb is U.S. and Canada and kerb is UK and Australia" (which is not "international" in scope). Unmaintainable, among other things. Not to mention that these notes tend to unnecessarily compartmentalize the language—overemphasizing differences in spelling or language doesn't help regard English as one language. If an article reads, say, "color (American English) or colour (British English - or Commonwealth, whatever it means)," it looks like color and colour are two different words, or even two different languages.
Next, the spelling differences are relevant to articles because by noting them, we minimize edit wars between editors who see other dialects' spellings as misspellings. Otherwise they'll keep saying, "Oh, I didn't see that part of the spelling differences article, the damn thing is too long to read!"
No, the phrase "see spelling differences" or equivalent already serves as a heads-up. See also CF below.
Finally, as for the Find feature, most computer users do not understand most of the features of Web browsers. You need to get out more often and try working with computer users from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, including senior citizens and people who did not go to college (the majority of human beings). For many computer illiterates, it is hard enough to understand the difference between clicking and double-clicking a mouse, and learning the appropriate timing for keyboard combinations is even harder. The "Find" feature is on the moon as far as those users are concerned.
To those computer illiterates, Wikipedia itself is on the moon too. Young whippersnappers and rugrats sure know how to use their cottonpicking browsers. The majority of human beings. Whoa. You need to get out more often. Whoa. I guess it's pretty safe to assume the number of people who don't know how to use a Web browser AND who are Wikipedia users AND who are looking for spelling information in a WP article about, say, color is pretty close to zero. Get real, mister. JackLumber. 21:42, 24 July 2006 (UTC)

--Coolcaesar 20:23, 22 July 2006 (UTC)

You are drawing a false dichotomy between expert Web users and total novices as if there is nothing in between. The difference is that there are many users in between, who understand the concept of links and clicks but don't understand all the advanced features; indeed, most users fall into the "in between" category. Please read a basic college textbook on user interface design before you make a fool of yourself.
You are also attacking a straw man by attacking the idea of people who read Wikipedia specifically for the sole purpose of finding information on spelling differences. I never made that narrow and indefensible assertion.
I simply pointed out that spelling differences are relevant to topics where multiple spellings exist and that it would be helpful to note that information where it is strongly relevant to the article so that we don't get into edit wars over spelling by people who don't have 25 minutes to read the entire spelling differences article and will instead think that they'll take a minute to help Wikipedia by fixing what looks like a typo to them. --Coolcaesar 06:13, 25 July 2006 (UTC)
aHA, now you're apparently wimping out. " note that information where it is strongly relevant to the article..." (emphasis added.) That's what I've been saying all along. Aluminium, fetus, sulfur. But not curb or color. Nobody ain't asking them damn users to read the whole friggin' spelling article. People willing to contribute have just to look at the article title. Color? "Well, if I am not a malicious user now I just have to spell it color throughout." No additional notes necessary. As I said, the spelling differences link is a heads-up—with such a link a user can't possibly think that color (or curb, or yoghurt) is a typo. But if, say, an American is not familiar with British spelling but nonetheless wants to edit an article written in British style, the spelling differences page will just tell him/her everything s/he needs to know. Strange as it may seem, back in college I minored in Computer Science; I remember a lot about algorithms and data structures, but I am by no means an expert Web user—I don't even have an internet connection at home. Btw, if you check out the history of Organization you will find all possible arrangements—dialect compartmentalization (inaccurate and goofy), usage note (lengthy and irrelevant), and link to spelling differences (and I didn't put it there.) What's best? Best, JackLumber. 12:58, 25 July 2006 (UTC)
I don't like the current arrangement in Organization 100%, but I will concede that it is a workable approach for some users. Very well, then. How about this: we compromise by having a policy that major differences (like aluminum) be noted, but minor differences should be noted with a parenthetical note on suffixes (-ize v. -ise, -yze v. -yse, etc.) that links to the proper section of the spelling differences article.
Objection sustained.
After much reflection, I realized what I'm really worried about clarifying smoothly are not spelling differences but really differences of idiom. For example, see Workers' compensation, where the difference in Australian and American idiom cannot be easily reconciled with a brief link to spelling differences because the two terms are so fundamentally different. The original version of this article did not indicate which dialect used which one ("workers' comp" versus "compo") and I had to run some Google searches to find out that Australians used "compo," which no self-respecting North American would ever use because it sounds too much like "compost." That's the situation that I'm really concerned about. --Coolcaesar 19:25, 25 July 2006 (UTC)
Gotcha! Lexicon—that's where it's at. Spelling has nothing to do with language, but *vocabulary* is really the main source of dialect differentiation—and it weighs more than pronunciation, since it affects both written and spoken language. Additionally, lexical differences, unlike spelling differences, usually are both relevant and interesting (see e.g. cookie). Btw, Australians are deeply in love with shortened & altered words (compo, bikkie, servo), while we have never liked them that much (American exceptions are movie, roomie, and combo); we prefer shortening (comp) to shortening & alteration (compo). More at carburetor... JackLumber. 20:06, 25 July 2006 (UTC)

The question of what's helpful to Wikipedia users is an important one to keep in mind, but we can't let it force us to provide inaccurate information. Specifically, catering Wikipedia to the badly formulated questions of users shouldn't be our goal. "Which is the American spelling, 'color' or 'colour'?" If one had to pick one of the two spellings, and give the "correct" answer to the "incorrect" question, the choice would of course be "color." But "color" is also one of the Canadian spellings (and is a Shakespearean spelling, and a Latin spelling, etc., etc.). The fact that such niceties are minor to most roadjocks is irrelevant.

As for ways to prevent orthographic edit wars, I don't see how noting anything about geographic or national distribution of different spellings will change anything. People who change spellings against guidelines do so either maliciously, or cluelessly. In both cases, the way we frame the different ways of spelling a word in the article's title won't make a difference.

As for the Find feature: we could include a link to the relevant section in the "... Differences ..." article. The article would need some rewriting, but I'd be happy to contribute to that effort. I suspect many others would, as well. --Cultural Freedom 2006-07-23 08:42 (UTC)

P.S. What we'd type to direct the user to the -or/-our section of the Spelling Differences page would be:

'''Color''' or '''colour''' (see [[Spelling_differences#-our_.2F_-or]]) is a property of light that is determined by its ...

But, of course, it's easy enough for users just to click on the appropriate entry in the table of contents of the Spelling Differences article.

--Cultural Freedom 2006-07-25 22:24 (UTC)