When -ize spellings were standard English | Letters

The -ize suffix is not simply an Americanisation, writes Paul Dormer, while Andrew Ryan remembers it was a crucial plot point in an Inspector Morse episode

Helen Clutton suggests that “theorize” is an American spelling (Letters, 18 August). It’s not as simple as that. The -ize spellings used to be standard in British English. I have seen a baptismal certificate for my great aunt, born in the 1880s in the Abingdon area, which said she was “baptized”.

Endings with -ize were allowed when I was at school in the 1960s. I used to enjoy writing the loopy zeds in cursive script. It was only when I started work in the 1970s that people began telling me this was an American spelling and -ise endings became standard.

About 30 years later, I was asked by colleagues to settle an argument. One of them was Bosnian by birth and always wanted to use correct English. She had a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary. The other person had told her that -ize endings were American and she countered this by showing that the OED still used -ize endings. My answer that both of them were right didn’t satisfy either.
Paul Dormer
Guildford, Surrey

• The -ize suffix is rooted in Latinized Greek and has a pedigree that encompasses Shakespeare, Milton, Caxton and the King James Bible. It remains the preferred variation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford University Press.

I recall that it provided a critical plot point for Inspector Morse in the Ghost in the Machine episode of the detective TV series, when he recognised that an Oxford man would never use the -ise suffix and therefore could not be the murderer.
Andrew Ryan

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