Canadian Spelling: It’s Complicated!
An editor colleague recently asked in an online editors’ group about how to direct a client to information about Canadian spelling. Like a good number of Canadian editors, I shake my head with frustration: It’s complicated.
Canadian English is sometimes presented as half British, half American, but inconveniently neither. However, the real issue is that Canadian English is a thing of its own, drawing on different traditions, and with its own unique words but without a core reference that is regularly updated.
Here are some sources and commentaries.
- The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd edition, (sometimes referred to as CanOx2) is a gem, but dates back to 2004 and is (sadly) not being updated. Clients might have the printed dictionaries in their offices. Members of Editors Canada can access CanOx2 online as a membership service (choosing the Oxford Reference Online Premium Collection and specifically the Canadian Oxford Dictionary). Others (including clients) might be able to access the same source through their own workplace or public library.
- Caps and Spelling from the Canadian Press is the guide for Canadian journalists, and it’s regularly updated. I recommend Caps and Spelling for words that do not appear in CanOx2 (e.g., Covid-19, bitcoin) or for words that might be changing in meaning, spelling, or both. Members of Editors Canada can access Caps and Spelling online as a membership service.
While the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and CP’s Caps and Spelling might not be available to clients, clients might appreciate an easy-to-access article about Canadian spelling by a Canadian editor (Virginia St-Denis) in the Language Portal of Canada and this page.
Some editors might turn to an online source such “Dave VE7CNV’s Truly Canadian Dictionary of Canadian Spelling,” but I question if it is current. I prefer to stick to CanOx2 and Caps and Spelling as authoritative sources and then keep a careful style sheet.
And for those wondering why there is no updated dictionary of Canadian English, well, it’s a big question and one that is being worked on. This CBC article from 2022 gets into some of the details.