Sunday, November 18, 2012

-Ize or -Ise?

Readers of this blog may have noticed that I bob hopelessly between using the "-ize" form and the "-ise" form of verbs. In other words, sometimes I write "realize" and sometimes I write "realise".

Partly that is sheer sloppiness (or linguistic variety, as I like to think of it), but mostly it reflects a struggle within my own mind.

I find it more natural and aesthetically pleasing to use the "-ize" ending. Shakespeare (or rather Kent in King Lear) may have famously thundered: "Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter!". But I like the letter zed (or the letter zee as our American cousins pronounce it). I like how it looks. I like how it sounds. I also like the idea of it being used more often, since it seems rather forlorn there at the dusty end of the alphabet.

But there is a commonly held idea that -ize belongs to American English, and -ise belongs to British English. Now, this is an extremely questionable view, as this excerpt from the Oxford Dictionary's site explains:

"Many people visiting the World (non-US) version of our website ask us why we spell words such as realize, finalize, and organize with ‘-ize’ spellings, rather than ‘-ise’. There’s a widespread belief that these spellings belong only to American English, and that British English should use the ‘-ise’ forms instead, i.e. realise, finalise, and organise. [Where does that leave the Irish, I wonder?]

In fact, the ‘-ize’ forms have been in use in English spelling since the 15th century: they didn’t originated in American use, even though they are now standard in US English. 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."

So why don't I just go with the Oxford English Dictionary and stick to my whoreson zeds?

Well, because I am also a strong believer in regional and local character. I think it would be a sad state of affairs if Shaw's witticism that the Americans and the English were two peoples divided by a common language ceased to be true. So part of me feels that I should go along with this rather arbitrary "American -ize and British -ise" division, simply in the interest of preserving linguistic difference.

(Having an American fianceƩ has been a rather interesting experience, given my commitment to cherishing language differences. Both of us feel the same way; I don't want her to start saying "waistcoast" instead of "vest", and she doesn't want me to start saying "candy" instead of "sweets". It will be interesting to see how that plays out!)

Ultimately, though, for all my appreciation of different regional usages, I have decided I am going to stick with -ize. I just think it looks nicer, and it comes more naturally to me. And since I am quite the fogey, and I am sure that -ize was the more usual usage up until recent decades, it is another opportunity to indulge in my pig-headed anti-modernism.

So please don't anathematize me for using -ize, or dogmatize about the correct version, or sermonize to me about Americanization. I realize what I am doing, and I realize why I am doing it. And if you take me to task about it I might just come through the computer screen and poke out both your -ize.

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