As someone who grew up in England and thus speaks British English, I have never really understood why or how Americans felt the need to change our wonderfully obtuse spellings by removing various letters from random words. How much extra time does it really take to write that extra ‘u’ in ‘colour’ anyway?

According to the MSN Encarta, it’s mostly due to the work of one man – Noah Webster (of Merriam-Webster), who around the time of the American Civil War decided that Americans needed their own dictionary. And their own spellings. His books, “An American Dictionary of the English Language” (1828) and “The American Spelling Book” (1783) were widely used and promoted “the use of an American language that intentionally differed from British English”.

So out with the old, and in with the new – Webster had most success with removing those ‘u’s (“colour” to “color”, “honour” to “honor”) as well as changing suffixes such as ‘que’ (e.g. “cheque” became “check”).

Other words such as “program” (in British English it is “programme”) have developed and changed in the intervening years through immigration and its further cultural influences. With American English being adopted by more English language learners because of America’s continued cultural and business success overseas, we’re sure to see more American spellings in every day life.