About The Joy of English

caesarean or cesarean?

The British spelling is caesarean and in the US, cesarean. Archaic spellings are 'caesarian' (British) and in the 'cesarian' (American).


Not to be spelt Ceasar, Ceazar, Caezar or Czar.

caesar salad

No need for a capital C, unless it's the start of a sentence.

Caesars Palace

The famous place does not use an apostrophe.

caddie or caddy?

Caddy is for golf and caddie is for tea.

Calcutta or Kolkata?

Nowadays it's Kolkata.

calendar, calender or colander?

A calendar shows days of the year. A calender is a rolling machine used for smoothing cloth or glazing paper. A colander is a perforated bowl used in the kitchen for draining.

callipers or calipers?

The UK spelling is callipers and the US spelling calipers.

calibre or caliber?

See calibre or caliber?.

can not or cannot?

The one-word spelling cannot should be the starting point for any writer, consigning can not to history. See alot and straightaway.

cancelled or canceled?

If you are wondering, how do you spell cancelled?, and are stuck on whether it has -ll- or -l-, here is the answer: it is cancelled in British English, Canadian English and Australian English; and canceled in American English.

cancelling or canceling?

As above, the British spellings are cancelled and cancelling and the US spellings are canceled and canceling.

canine or dog?

The word dog is a noun and canine is an adjective, meaning "dog-like". Resist the urge to call a dog a canine in terms of a noun.


Bill Clinton is famous for having smoked but not inhaled it, but too frequently it is reported that other people (who perhaps wish they hadn't) have experimented with it. To experiment with something is something normally reserved for scientists. Smoked is smoked, so if someone allegedly 'experimented with cannabis', the fact of the matter is: they 'once smoked cannabis'.

cannot or can not?

The one-word spelling cannot should be the starting point for any writer, consigning can not to history. See alot and straightaway.

canon or cannon?

A canon is a body of writing, as in Shakespeare's canon, and a cannon is what you'll find on 17th Century pirate ships. So the camera and photocopier brand isn't named after a weapon.

canvas or canvass?

A painter will use a canvas, a politician and his supporters will canvass for votes.

carat or karat?

In British English, carat is the unit of weight of precious stones and pearls, as well as the measure of the purity of gold.

In US English, karat is used as the measure of the purity of gold, while carat is used as the unit weight of precious stones and pearls.

carburetor or carburettor?

The British spelling is carburettor; carburetor is American English.

career woman and career girl

To describe a woman as a career woman is old fashioned and terribly un-PC in today's day and age. Call her a career girl at your own risk.

carousel or carrousel?

carousel: The British spelling is 'carousel'; 'carrousel' is American English.

cashmere or Kashmir?

Cashmere is the fabric (famously linked by many to George Costanza of Seinfeld) and Kashmir is the place famously linked to a geopolitical tug-o-war.

casket or coffin?

The British prefer coffin and Americans generally talk about a casket.

cauldron or caldron?

The British spelling is cauldron; caldron is the preferred spelling in American English.

cause célèbre

Don't forget to use the accents.

CDs or CD's

CDs, never CD's.

censor or censure?

To censor is to prevent publication of and censure is to criticise.

centenary or centennial?

Both words have the same meaning, but only in their respective regions. British use centenary and Americans use centennial; while 'centennial' in British English is only used as an adjective. The same is true of bicentenary and bicentennial.

centre or center?

The British spelling is centre; center is the preferred spelling in American English. Make sure to use the 'center' spelling even in British English when referring to an American entity; World Trade Center.

centre on or centre around?

(US: center on or center around.) The most common preposition used with this word is centre on. The other common preposition is centre in. Avoid 'centre around' because they have opposite meanings. A report can centre on its topic, a discussion might centre on something else, just don't say it 'centres around' (or round). You might consider using revolve around instead.

chairman or chairwoman?

The agreed term nowadays is chair, strange as it is. A surprising number of people aim to be a chair.

chairmanship or chairship?

The agreed, neutral term used nowadays is chairship.

changeable or changable?

The British and US spelling is always changeable.

channelling or channeling?

The British spellings are channelled, channeller and channelling, and the US spellings are channeled, channeler and channeling.

chastise or chastize?

The British and American spelling is always chastise – regardless of the different -ise/-ize variations..

check or bill?

The British word is 'bill' when asking to pay for a meal. The word 'check' is only ever used in American English.

check or cheque?

The British spelling cheque involves a method of payments, and check to "inspect" (also Australian, NZ etc). The American and Canadian spelling is check for every meaning – i.e. cheque is not used in the US:

checkout or check out?

The checkout is where you pay for your groceries, but check out is what you do either at a hotel or on the beach.

Chennai or Madras?

Nowadays, it is Chennai.


Don't forget the apostrophe.

chilli or chili?

The British spelling is chilli with -ll- and the American spelling is chili with -l-.

chords or cords?

Chords are to do with music, maths and engineering, as well as with strike a chord. The other, string-like cords are spelt without an h, including the type of trousers that were popular in the 1970s. Medically, you have cut the (umbilical) cord and spinal cord is the preferred spelling, but it does have a variant in spinal chord.

Christian name, forename or first name?

The use of Christian name has all but been removed from British English for reasons of political correctness so as not to offend those who aren't Christian but who still have first names. This archaic term is still used by many older people, who would have grown up hearing it everywhere.

Instead, first name and forename are the most commonly used forms in Britain, while given name is the usual form in American English.


Careful writers know that chronic describes something that is long lasting, such as chronic pain, and that the opposite is acute. A lot of people incorrectly use chronic as a synonym of severe.

cities and countries

It's an easy mistake to make, but take care not to list a string of cities and countries all jumbled together as in: "Our company plans to open new offices in London, Sweden, Hungary, Beijing and Australia."

For lists of countries it is generally the norm to list them in alphabetical order regardless of the level of importance: The aircraft is built by companies from Finland, Germany, Italy and the US.

citizen or subject?

Europeans and Americans often speak of citizens when referring to the populace of a country. In the United Kingdom, however, the population lives in an unconstitutionalised monarchy. Therefore, British passport holders are usually British subjects rather than British citizens.

A better explanation is available on this Wikipedia explanation of British Subject. Just be aware that there is a formal difference between the two.

citrus or citrous?

The British spelling is citrus for the fruit and citrous as an adjective (wonderful citrous flavour) and the American spelling is citrus for all senses.

clerk or "clark"?

In British English, clerk rhymes with 'park' and in North America it rhymes with 'work'.

collector's edition

A lot of companies forget this apostrophe in their marketing materials.

at college or in college?

In the UK it is usual to use at college while the US it is in college.

collinear or colinear?

Colinear means plots lying in the same straight line. Collinear means lying in the same straight line or sequence.

colour or color?

In British English it is always colour and in US spelling it is always color. In Australia, color is creeping up on the preferred colour.

comedian or comedienne?

At some stage (boom, boom), comedienne went the way of actress and businesswoman; it became neutered and is no longer PC. Instead, everyone is a comedian, regardless of gender.

commented or said?

A small difference to some, a big difference to others. Ask yourself if one of the two is more appropriate. In most cases, said is enough, unless it was a throw-away comment. There is a difference between having your say and making a comment.

common sense or commonsense?

Common sense is a noun, and commonsense is the adjective. Use your common sense and take a commonsense approach.

complement or compliment?

You know a complement when you see one (= when two things suit each other) and you know a compliment when you receive one (= receive praise).

Try to remember:

complement, "e and e go together" OR compliment, "I receive praise".

compromise or compromize?

The correct British and American spelling is always compromise – regardless of the different -ise/-ize variations.

the continent

A common term in the UK is "the continent", meaning mainland Europe. Europe may be a continent, and the UK and ireland may be islands off the coast of it, the UK and Ireland are both in Europe and part of Europe regardless of the politics of it. If you must, use mainland Europe in preference to the continent.

continual or continuous?

Continual means "frequently repeating at intervals" (continual deliveries) and continuous is "continuing without interruption" (continous flow of water).

in contrast to or contrast with?

See in contrast/by contrast.

controlling or controling?

The British and American spellings are both controlling.

In the case of US spelling, this word breaks the pattern of what is otherwise a single-L spelling (compare US canceling, dueling, funneling, labeling, signaling, totaling, traveling etc). Therefore, it is non-standard to write "controling" in US English. Thus, in both British and American English, we get control > controlled, controller, controlling, controllable and controllability.

controversy and controversial

These bearbaiting words are often overused for the purpose of making something appear interesting or to taint reputations, often by lazy writers (the controversial film, the controversy is growing). Sometimes, what is meant is 'disagreement', 'outrageous', 'anger' etc. There are so many precise and nonhackneyed words to choose from.

Note: There is also some controversy associated with how to say this word. The two options are CON-tro-versy and con-TROV-ersy – the latter is common in the UK. This difference is related to the way that Americans say sec-re-TARY and Brits often say SEC-re-try. Like con-TROV-ersy, sec-re-TARY is how these words were pronounced a few centuries ago. In the former, Brits have kept it the same and Americans have shifted the stress; in the latter, Brits have shifted the stress and Americans have kept it the same.

convince or persuade?

You convince someone of something being correct or true, so is therefore a matter of the mind. You persuade someone to do something, so is therefore a matter of physics. Convince derives from Latin convincere, meaning 'overcome, conquer'. Persuade derives from Latin persuadere, meaning 'to complete, make appealing, sweeten, advise'.

cooperation or co-operation?

The typical orthography in British English is co-operation while in US English the only form is cooperation, which is in line with the pared-down hyphenation style. The thing to note is that co-operation is not the typical style in American English but it certainly is typical praxis in the UK. (Compare: coworker, co-worker etc.)

That said, cooperation is equally valid in British English and usually comes down to a company's or publisher's individual house style.

cosmetic surgery or plastic surgery?

They are not the same. Cosmetic surgery is for those seeking to enhance their looks – including laser eye surgery – and plastic surgery involves procedures such as jaw reconstruction and so on.

cosy or cozy?

The British spelling is cosy and the American cozy.


This is often used wrongly, such as in rising to a crescendo (sic). Crescendo is equal to build up or increase, but is not the peak itself. Therefore crescendo can not be the peak, it's everything leading up to it.


A crucifix is not the cross itself nor is it a cross on its own; a crucifix depicts Jesus on the cross.

crystallized, crystalized or crystalised?

The US spelling is usually crystallized, with -ll-., though crystalized is also a variant. In British English the spelling is either crystallised or crystallized – it is always -ll- and, depending on your house style, an -s- or -z- is used. In Australia it is always crystallised. In Canadian English, according to the Canadian Oxford dictionary, is the American form, crystallized, with a -z- and -ll-.


Interestingly, cull does not mean "mass killing". It means to "choose or select". Animals are often culled for slaughter, but these are two separate actions. Journalists and hackneyed writers often get this wrong.

curb or kerb?

To "put a stop on or restrain", say power, you write curb.

The British spelling for the concrete edge of a road is kerb while in American and Canadian English the spelling is curb.


The word cusp is often used to mean 'verge', 'brink' or 'edge'. Sadly, however, the correct meaning of cusp is 'the intersection point where two areas converge'. Think of two dinner plates side by side, touching. Where they touch, meet or overlap is the cusp.

The cusp of adolescence is really the cusp of childhood and adolescence.


This page last updated: 15 November 2014

Jesse Karjalainen is the author of The Joy of English: 100 conversations about the English Language, Cannibal – the language and history of the discovery of the New World, and Roanoke – the language and history of Early Colonial America.