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Yves Saint Laurent announced, when expanding his production from the atelier to ready-to-wear, "We must never confuse elegance with snobbery". I think he was right. It's so easy to codify snobbery in language as the 'right' way of doing things, without thinking about the function of language. Anything that obstructs a language's capacity to communicate is naturally eroded away over the generations, though some epic rear-guard actions have been fought to defend pet usages.

In particular, although linguists can observe the development of our language and its vocabulary by the tricks of grammar and spelling we've preserved (or abandoned) over the years, we don't have to petrify our language into a museum of philology.

Which brings me (deep breath) to the ise/ize debate.

The only way, in my early schooling, to get the spelling of 'ise/ize' words right was to commit lists of 'exceptions' to memory. And a good secretary was distinguished by knowing these lists without reference to a dictionary.

But why were we doing this?

Well, apparently we did it to show how clever we were, based on no-longer current studies of long-dead Ancient Greek. It seems that in the spelling conventions of English English, as opposed to US English, the 'ize' was retained to show that the word had entered English directly from the Greek, where the 'ise' was used where the word had been rendered into French on its way from the Aegean, whether or not it dropped into Rome on the way.

What the...?

If we don't allow everyone to study Ancient Greek and Latin then it's a bit rich to expect people to make distinctions in their daily use of written language based on knowledge from which they’ve been excluded. And expecting everyone to memorise them is, to me, a complete waste of brain space.

Current BBC usage (but not the OED) says 'ise' while US English went for a uniform 'ize' over a century ago.

Now as global English develops through the very rapid feedback provided by the internet, Facebook, Twitter and more, we may see some homogenisation or homogenization occurring. But I’m certainly not prepared to even try to predict which will win.

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