Extract from the Orthography section of the first edition (1828) of Webster
", which popularized the "American standard" spellings of -er
(7); the dropped -e
(11); and the doubling of consonants with a suffix (15).
An 1814 American medical text showing British English spellings that were still in use ("tumours", "colour", "centres", etc.).
In the early 18th century, English spelling was inconsistent. These differences became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. Today's British English spellings mostly follow Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), while many American English spellings follow Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language ("ADEL", "Webster's Dictionary", 1828).
Webster was a proponent of English spelling reform for reasons both philological and nationalistic. In A Companion to the American Revolution (2008), John Algeo notes: "it is often assumed that characteristically American spellings were invented by Noah Webster. He was very influential in popularizing certain spellings in America, but he did not originate them. Rather […] he chose already existing options such as center, color and check for the simplicity, analogy or etymology". William Shakespeare's first folios, for example, used spellings like center and color as much as centre and colour. Webster did attempt to introduce some reformed spellings, as did the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 20th century, but most were not adopted. In Britain, the influence of those who preferred the Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of words proved to be decisive. Later spelling adjustments in the United Kingdom had little effect on today's American spellings and vice versa.
For the most part, the spelling systems of most Commonwealth countries and Ireland closely resemble the British system. In Canada, the spelling system can be said to follow both British and American forms, and Canadians are somewhat more tolerant of foreign spellings when compared with other English-speaking nationalities. Australian spelling has also strayed slightly from British spelling, with some American spellings incorporated as standard. New Zealand spelling is almost identical to British spelling, except in the word fiord (instead of fjord). There is also an increasing use of macrons in words that originated in Māori and an unambiguous preference for -ise endings (see below).