When Will Brits Learn Proper English?

Should proper nouns be exempt from local spelling conventions?

Should proper nouns be exempt from local spelling conventions?

Matt Yglesias chastises the FT for renaming his parent organization “Centre for American Progress” noting, “Just because the FT is a British publication is no reason, in my view, why we should suddenly become a ‘Centre’—that’s a proper name.”

But, from a British standpoint, an improper spelling!

I’m not sure what the right course is on such matters.   I almost invariably use the British spelling for the UK’s Labour Party, even though many American publications correct it to Labor Party.  But how far does one take this?  I use Americanized versions of Rome, Florence, Munich, for example, rather than the native Roma, Firenza, and München.  Those, too, are proper nouns — and with a hell of a lot more provenance than CAP’s.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Burgess says:

    I basically don’t get my panties/nickers in a twist if the name or word is comprehensible. As a matter of personal practice, however, I use the spelling they use, at least if it’s in the same language. I’d cite ‘Centre’ because it doesn’t even take more letters, just a rearrangement.

  2. Franklin says:

    I agree 100% with Mr. Burgess.

  3. mantis says:

    I also agree with Mr. Burgess, at least as far as my knickers are concerned, but it’s still not proper to change proper names, unless you are translating them from another language.  What if FT was doing a story and decided it should be called Twittre?

  4. James Joyner says:

    but it’s still not proper to change proper names, unless you are translating them from another language.  What if FT was doing a story and decided it should be called Twittre?

    The FT would doubtless not do that.   But, I think they’d argue, “Center” is only spelled that way at CAP because it’s an American institution and that’s how we spell it.  And it’s only marginally a proper name.

  5. mantis says:

    I agree FT wouldn’t do that, but I don’t see a whole lot of difference, from a copy editor’s perspective.  I produce a lot of copy, including a lot of writing about institutions, many of which are centers or centres.  I’ve never changed the spelling of a centre in the UK when writing about one.  If it’s a proper name, you leave it alone.  And it’s not a marginally proper name.  There are no degrees of “proper” in nouns.  It’s a binary.  Proper or common.  That’s it. Center for American Progress is proper.

  6. Leee says:

    mantis is right. Moreover, the US papers that I’ve checked refer to Gordon Brown’s party as Labour, any reputable American publication refers to Shakespeare’s principal venue as the Globe Theatre.

    Also, unless I’m missing something, I’d have reckoned that Rome, Munich, Florence, etc. were English exonyms before they were American exonyms.