Also on this page, The Daily Mail and The Times reports, QCA statement, Times article, and SSS item for NUJ newsletter.
See also articles about American and British spellings.

The Daily Telegraph 25 November 2000.

Exam body tells pupils to spell like Americans

by Liz Lightfoot, Education Correspondent.

Teenagers already under the influence of American fast food and fashion are being told to take on American spellings as well.

Pupils have been told by the Government's exam watchdog to drop the English spelling of scientific terms in favour of the American versions. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has sent guidance to teachers saying pupils should use "internationally standardised" terms in the tests for 14-year-olds. It gives the examples of "sulfate" instead of "sulphate" and "fetus" instead of "foetus".

Two scientific bodies urged the change because they wanted schools to use spellings conforming to "international agreements on scientific nomenclature", said a QCA spokesman. Pupils would not be penalised for using English spellings.

Science teachers have reacted with disbelief. "It's nonsense," said Andrew Thomas, head of science at Emmanual College in Gateshead. "It's more to do with cultural imperialism by America than wanting to standardise. If America cared about consistency it wouldn't use feet and inches and US gallons.

"Next thing they'll be telling us to drop the 'i' in aluminium because Americans cannot pronounce it."

He said he had another reason for wanting to keep the "ph" in sulphur. "The sight of an 'f' in a student's work is a clue that they have downloaded it straight from the internet."

However, the Royal Society of Chemistry insisted that international nomenclature was essential. "Its use is one way to ensure that young people can access the latest information," said a spokesman.

The influential Royal Society said it did not feel strongly, but could understand the move "because of the influence of US scientific journals".

Estelle Morris, the schools standards minister, said English pupils should use English spellings and she would be contacting the QCA. The QCA said it was aware of Miss Morris's comments, but had no plans to change its guidance.

Daily Mail (UK) November 2000.

Why sulfur spells trouble.

Guidelines to encourage pupils to use American spellings in science tests were scrapped last night.

The Government condemned plans by its own exams chiefs to phase in 'internationally standardised' versions of English spellings, such as 'foetus' and 'sulphur'.

Under the American Spellings ordered by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, these would have become 'fetus' and 'sulfur'.

But ministers put a stop to the plans after criticism from English language campaigners and MPs.

The switch would have affected 11 and 14-year-olds sitting national tests in science next year.

Last night School Standards Minister Estelle Morris declared: 'School pupils should use English spellings.'

Officials at her department added: 'It is not appropriate to use Americanised spellings in national tests and we have asked the QCA to move quickly to ensure that standard English is used.'

The QCA, which oversees exams in England, had advised schools to follow 'international agreements on scientific nomenclature' when preparing pupils for tests. Its latest guidelines warn that questions will use the new terms, and exam boards were expected to follow suit with GCSE and A-levels.

QCA officials said they were simply following the lead of the international science community, which wanted uniform terms. Dr Alan Hayes, president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, which makes recommendations about terminology, said: '' I personally think that if you are a student in England studying chemistry, you should spell sulphur with a "ph" because that's how you spell sulphur.' 'I have never had a satisfactory explanation from the Americans as to why they spell sulphur with an f.'

The Times November 2000.

English spelling falls out of favor.

Education authorities insisted last night that they stood by controversial advice to schools to adopt American spellings of scientific terms despite a government order to use English ones

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) said it had no plans to change guidance in which "foetus," for example, would become "fetus" and "sulphate" would change to "sulfate."

It blamed the scientific community for the change.

But it said that pupils would "not be penalised or disadvantaged" by using standard English spelling in tests and examinations.

Professor Bernard Lamb, a geneticist and London branch chairman of the Queen's English Society, said the QCA had no business imposing US spellings.

"There is no good reason to change:
I can see arguments in favour of standardisation,
but why not use British spellings as the standard?"
The Plain English Campaign said:

"For English schools, it does seem to be going too far.
It's more appropriate for university students."
But the Association of Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry said teaching internationally recognised scientific spelling was essential.

Estelle Morris, the School Standards Minister, said:

"School pupils should use English spelling.
I will be asking the QCA to intervene quickly."

QCA statement.

An e-mail praising the QCA recommendation evoked this response:

Thank you for your email of 25 November, which was originally sent to Estelle Morris.

I refer you to the below note posted on the QCA website at:

"Please note that in national tests and public examinations, the conventional English spelling for scientific terms, such as sulphate, will be used. Teachers of science in secondary schools and colleges may consider whether to make older students aware of international agreements on the spelling of technical terms where these differ from the standard English forms. Students will not be penalised for using international spelling of technical vocabulary in science tests and examinations."
Andrew Harris
Customer Services Manager (QCA).

An article in The Times, November 2000.


English spelling is alphabet soup.

How could it not be in this mongrel language that combines Romance, Teutonic and Nordic with all the transliterations of imperial languages on which the sun never set a standard?

Though the tough cough and hiccough plough me through
O'er life's dark lough my course I still pursue.
English spelling horrifies foreign students and excites the derision of foreigners who spell with more "logical" orthographies.

Yesterday's announcement that English schoolchildren will not, after all, be forced to adopt internationally standardised spellings of scientific terms will comfort those who have mastered native spellings such as "foetus" instead of "fetus" and "sulphate" rather than "sulfate"

English language purists are already screaming blue murder at Americanisation of the language.

Today's children have thus been narrowly saved from a future of domestic disharmony in which their convention for writing their language diverged from that of their parents, annoying and sometimes misleading them.

Why should British children adopt American spellings, which slap the -ize endings on to anything that moves, and are notoriously careless about their -our suffixes?

But the uncompromising tyranny of British English spelling possesses no divine right.

Linguistic chauvinists who obstinately uphold the correctitude against all reformers will ultimately play into the hands of the revolutionists, who would cast it off altogether, and substitute the worst tyranny of a phonetic system.

Such a revolution would cut off English-spellers from ancestors such as Chaucer and Shakespeare. And whose pronunciation would phonetic spelling reproduce, pray?

And in spelling of scientific terms, the American convention is etymologically correct. "Fetus", from the Aryan root meaning "grow," is the way the Romans spelt it. The Oxford English Dictionary describes the spelling foetus as "incorrect." Similarly "sulfur" is the best Latin spelling.

Standardisation of the spelling of scientific terms would be good science and good English.

A phonetic revolution of all spelling would be barbarism. It would destroy the rich archaeology of English, in which a word such as eschschol(t)zia, the California poppy, records the Anglicisation of a Russian mistranslation of the eponym of a German botanist.

The English way with spelling, as with the constitution, is gradual emendation as absurdities become intolerable.

The result should neither overburden schoolchildren, nor stultify intelligence, nor outrage the scholar.

"Fetus" and "sulfate" pass this test.

SSS item for NUJ, 2000.

SSS chair, Chris Jolly addressed members of the Books section of the National Union of Journalists, and Allan Campbell sent this article for their newsletter.
For most people, learning to read proficiently in English is not easy. About 10 years of schooling and home support are required for the average to good school pupil to be able to read, say, the Financial Times.

Once they've learned, they have to nurture the habit or lose it. Researchers say literacy decreases with lack of use or increases with activity. Adults in occupations that put a premium on literacy have better skills than those with similar education who are in workplaces where literacy is less important. Information technology is increasing the proportion of occupations needing high literacy.

English-speaking nations lag in literacy rates. Teaching methods and the adequacy of resources among them vary, but the language is common. It would seem the language is part of the problem.

We need to look at what and how we learn to read and write, and then how we nurture these skills. Publishers and editors have a part to play in the latter; the Simplified Spelling Society is among those addressing the first and, indirectly, also the second.

A child who experiences learning to read as pleasurable is more likely to master the art quickly, enjoy it, practise it, retain it, and broaden it.

However, many children, already handicapped by below-average ability, social circumstance, and/or lack of reading at home, find decoding (reading) and encoding (writing) the unpredictable English spelling too difficult, and give up.

Repeatedly trying to overcome snares - such as say, day, but they; though, dough, but through, rough; revelling, but rebelling - does not encourage a lasting relationship with reading.

Regularize spelling, make it predictable, make logic and common sense rather than memory the appropriate skills in literacy learning, and it is likely a higher percentage of schoolchildren - and adults - will succeed.

Less time, money, and other resources will need to be diverted into remedial measures. Time saved can be used for other subjects.

The Simplified Spelling Society aims to persuade decision-makers - mainly politicians and educationists - about the need to start a planned, gradual change of English orthography. Other languages review their spellings at intervals (German the most recent) to keep their alphabetical tool honed. English has not tried this since Dr Samuel Johnson published his dictionary 250 years ago. A few, very few, changes have occurred since then: phantasy, to-day, shew are forms we don't often see now. In the United States, Noah Webster and others have upgraded a few - humor, to match humorous, center to match enter - but they are peripheral.

Our society has submissions before two parliaments - in London and New Zealand - asking that the obstacles spelling places in front of children learning to read English be recognized, and that a start be made to remove them.

If the process doesn't start, it doesn't happen.

Back to the top.