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The Queen’s (or her heir’s) English?

The Prince of Wales was in the news last week. As he is often written about, that fact is not, in itself, newsworthy – at least not for a blog about writing and writers. What drew literary minded people’s interest was his letter to President Macron after the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in which he used a number of Americanised spellings, namely –ize instead of –ise. The prince’s fuddy-duddy reputation as a traditionalist was under threat – had he fallen under the influence of his new American daughter-in-law? Was he trying too hard to be ‘down with the kidz? Was ‘Western civilization’ (as he wrote) under threat from his expressions of sympathy for the French in this ‘most agonizing of times’? As one British woman living in France tweeted, ‘Lovely sentiments, but not impressed by the Americanisation of spelling here. Are we British or what?’

Well she, monarchists at home and abroad, and pedants everywhere can relax. The prince was being both British and traditionalist. He has been a longstanding user of –ize rather than –ise, and has the full support of established lexicographers. An article on the website of the Oxford Dictionary points out that while it is now believed that –ize is only correct in American English, it has been in use in Standard English since the fifteenth century, when there was no such thing as American English. The prince’s writing style, in fact, is traditional with knobs on.

Some publishing houses in the UK still use –ize as their preferred house style (the Oxford University Press, for example, who prefer it because of its origins in ancient Greek.) So, we Brits can choose which way to spell words like realise or organize. But it is best to be consistent and, of course, adhere to the recommended house style if you are lucky enough to get a publisher.

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