Honorary vs. Honourary

By Maeve Maddox

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The post was intended to be a straightforward look at the fact that although American and British speakers differ as to the spelling of the nouns honor/honour, humor/humour, and glamor/glamour, they agree on the spelling of the adjectives honorary, humorous, and glamorous.

I felt secure in declaring that the spellings honourary, humourous, and glamourous are wrong because the Oxford English Dictionaries site lists all three with their “commonly misspelled words.” When I looked the words up in the Oxford English Dictionary, I found that glamourous receives an “also spelled” notation, but that honorary and humorous are the only options. Another source, the WordWebOnline dictionary, flags glamourous as “nonstandard British usage.”

When I went Web-diving for usage examples, I discovered that not all speakers of British English are on the same page as the Oxford dictionaries when it comes to spelling these adjectives:

Wagamese receives honourary degree from Lakehead University –Wawatay News Online (Ontario)

Ryan Giggs ‘tremendously proud’ to receive honourary degree –WalesOnline

Bruce Cockburn to receive LU honourary degree –Sudbury Northern Live.ca

A humourous take on a serious issue –Deccan Herald (India)

A humourous look at our Customer Service (Irish travel site)

A humourous look at weekends at the cottage –muskokaregion.com (Ontario)

I don’t want to spark an international incident, but because my principal authorities for British English usage are the OED and its offshoot the Oxford Dictionaries site, my advice to writers is that honourary, humourous, and glamourous are nonstandard spellings of honorary, humorous, and glamorous.

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10 Responses to “Honorary vs. Honourary”

  • Marie

    Canadian English often uses the “our” spelling. And actually I quite like it with that spelling. I find the American spelling inelegant but the best advice I was given is whatever you choose, be consistent.

  • NicK

    Honourary, humorous and glamourous are fairly standard spellings here in Australia, as is the replacement of “ize” or “ized” endings with “ise” or “ised” (i.e. colourise, analyse, hospitalised etc.,). OED might be spitting chips or banging angry fists in the wall over such spellings but here in Australia we don’t care! In any case we have our own excellent English dictionary (the Macquarie Dictionary) which in many ways has now replaced or superceded the OED.

  • Shakespeare

    When it comes to matters such as deciding who’s got it right, ultimately you’ve got to think who’s language it is in the first place. English is the language of the English adopted by its ex-colonies such as America, although the colonies may have subverted the language, whatever form is used in its mother country is the correct form. Therefore, it is “honour” and “armour” (which even in this text-box are underlined as miss-spellings) as they are the ones most commonly used in England.

  • Holly

    Very useful, thank you! I got a good English degree in the UK, and never learned this!

  • Michael Dorosh

    Just because a newspaper uses a word, it doesn’t make it correct. Newspapers commonly spell words incorrectly on a regular basis.

  • Myles Dugenfelder

    Generally the american spellings are the spanish influenced dumbed down versions of the British originals. Sulfur….Sulphur.
    Aluminum …. aluminium…

    Simple 😀

  • Maeve

    Myles Dugenfelder: Would the spelling public be a dumbed down version of the word Dr. Johnson spelled as publick? British English and American English have different standard dialects that have developed separately from earlier English dialects. Not surprisingly, some spellings differ. How about the qualifier simplified” rather than dumbed down to describe such spellings as sulfur, honor, and eon?

    Shakespeare: Subverted is another term that seems out of place in a discussion of language. You might find the little Horobin book of interest:

  • Phil Kennedy

    I tend to use honorary and I’m a Brit – but can’t wrap my head around why yanks pronounce “Route” as ROWT. It’s not a W – and that only seems to have appeared since the 60s. The SONG says ROOT 66 not “ROWT 66”

  • Maeve

    Phil Kennedy,
    I’m with you on the pronunciation “route.” I grew up with the song.

  • Myles Dugenfelder

    Maeve: The words “Dumbed down” were used to express a greater meaning than just “simplified”. 😉

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