I was rather unhappy with an edit to a post of mine (which I immediately rolled back as soon as I saw it). While one may debate about whether mannonic acid or mannuronic acid is formed in an oxidation of that type and the first equation was (deliberately!) incomplete I was especially unhappy about the changes that turned oxidise into its corresponding American (or Oxford dictionary in this special case) spelling.

Community consensus (which I fully agree with!) is at present not to change a post from one flavour of English — i.e. British, American, Australian, New Zealandish, South African, … — into another while editing. Please respect writers choices of English. See also the title to this question.

Note that adjusting misspelt words to the majority flavour is encouraged. So if a single colour is missing its u while everything else is clearly in British English, editing in the missing u is desireable.

A second motivation for writing this post is a recently suggested edit that included the following edit summary:

Comment: Spelling - when in americanized spelling, it's more popular in search engines = more traffic to question

See the following image of a Google search I performed just a few minutes ago to see that that is blatantly wrong. Search engines automatically substitute either forms for each other (and they are even great at ‘recongising’ misspellings and suggesting corrections for them, too).

Searching for *favourite colour* on Google

  • 5
    $\begingroup$ I'm very tempted to move to England and start spelling things this way. $\endgroup$
    – jonsca
    Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 2:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @jonsca - I'm with you :) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 3:50
  • $\begingroup$ I have a for some reason deleted answer in that post that links to this. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23869/… Worth mentioning $\endgroup$
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ @M.A.R. This exactly! (Also nice to see you back =)) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 11, 2016 at 19:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I've reversed a few edits where I found people doing this. I think it's mostly down to ignorance where the user is ignorant of the correctness of the other spelling in its native flavour. Maybe we should make a special hat for them? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 12, 2016 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ If I've ever done this it's only to shut up my spell check, as it underlines the non-American spellings in red. That could be where other people are coming from as well. $\endgroup$
    – ringo
    Commented Nov 14, 2016 at 23:53
  • $\begingroup$ Imho the easier way to shut up one’s spell checker is to turn it off ;) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 13:45

1 Answer 1


Revisiting this there are two things that I would like to comment on and perhaps draw others' attention to.

1. It is true that Google and other search engines do automatically search for both BrE and AmE variants. Therefore, the argument that using AmE draws more traffic is wrong. However, Stack Exchange search is not so smart. As such, searching for "color" and "colour" bring up two different sets of results altogether.

2. There are some elements which have variant spellings, notably caesium, aluminium, and sulfur. There is perhaps less debate over caesium and aluminium, but sulfur is one that sees both spellings used with some regularity on this website. This extends to its compounds, such as sulfuric acid, hydrogen sulfide, and so on.

IUPAC has adopted the spellings above for over two decades at least. As far as I can tell, this has been in place since at least the 1990 Red Book. I cannot find that online but the 2005 Red Book lists the element as "sulfur" and does not even list "sulphur" as an alternative spelling, despite "aluminum" and "cesium" being listed as such (Table 1, p 260).

Within the UK, the Royal Society of Chemistry has adopted the spelling "sulfur" and all its publications since 1992 have spelt it as such (see the footnote at the bottom of the article). For those who cannot access this article, I have quoted:

The new (1990) edition of IUPAC‘s ‘Nomenclature of Inorganic Chemistry’ contains a table of IUPAC-approved names ‘for use in the English language’. These include ‘caesium’, ‘aluminium’, and ‘sulfur’ (spellings as given here). There is increasing use of the ‘f’ rather than the ‘ph’ spelling for sulfur in English publications, in particular the English language versions of ISO and European standards, and those British Standards which implement ISO standards verbatim. Furthermore, there is no good etymological basis for preferring the ‘ph’ spelling. In view of these considerations, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Nomenclature Committee has recently recommended that RSC change to using the ‘f’ spelling in all its publications. This recommendation will be implemented for RSC's primary journals in 1992.

And lastly, from my own observations as a student in the UK, common usage in the UK is also sulfur, not sulphur.

How far do we want to take the notion of BrE vs AmE? I do not particularly care about favourite colour being corrected (I myself exclusively use BrE), but additional questions must be raised when this goes against international recommendations and is not even the favoured spelling in the UK.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I personally see quite frequent usage of aluminum at least. Cesium is probably not seen as often simply because it is a much more boring element. With respect to sulphur/sulfur I personally have decided that I’m not going to roll back edits to my post that change that unless they did something else that I disagree with (e.g. color). I feel the need to say this because I’m sure you know I’m one of the most frequent ph users in sulphur/sulfur ;) $\endgroup$
    – Jan
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ I am not personally against using ph either, but especially in view of point (1) I was wondering whether it would be beneficial for the site to establish a policy to standardise the spelling of chemical terminology. Then again, it is a bit of a grey line; after all "oxidise" and perhaps "colour" can also be considered chemical terminology. I strongly suspect however that most people would usually search for "sulfur" before "sulphur" simply because the ph spelling is antiquated, which is what prompted me to post this. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ [...] So, I'm not really trying to insist on something here; just wanted to drop some food for thought. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ Concerning international recommendations, see also my answer here: meta.chemistry.stackexchange.com/a/2930/7951 $\endgroup$
    – user7951
    Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ Very timely - I just finished editing this post and left the "sulphur/sulphuric" in there for fear of stepping on toes (I really don't have strong opinions about American/British spelling). In light of the information you give above, I'll edit to sulfur/sulfuric. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 2, 2016 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ Except for @Jan - I won't mess with your posts :) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 0:04
  • $\begingroup$ Looks like India is still outdated. All the national textbooks for schools spell it as sulphur. :( $\endgroup$ Commented May 22, 2017 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I'm just a diehard lover of the old spelling for sulphur, but wouldn't the right solution here be to allow for variant spellings that are common (or loved) and modify the search to always look for both the common spellings. while there is an IUPAC ruling on sulphur (the bastards) there will never be one on some of the other variant spellings. So modifying search seems more robust than editing/standardising posts? $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ @matt_black Ideally, I agree. As of 2015, the developers indicated that this was not on their priority list: meta.stackexchange.com/a/268588/312770 Maybe time to bring it up again? $\endgroup$ Commented May 26, 2017 at 9:14

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