Big bad Americans and their love of the letter z

April 2010

The most used function on my Microsoft word programme is changing the default language back to UK English. Why do I have to do this at least 10 times a day? Because firstly, Microsoft, being a US company, apparently thinks that their version of our language (guys, the clue’s in the name ‘English’…) is superior to the original version and therefore do whatever possible to override your default setting. Write something in UK English then copy and paste a single word off a website; your whole piece is now in US English. Equally, get an email from anyone whose default is set to US, and your reply to them will be in the same. Which is SO annoying. And does anyone know how to set ‘subject’ in outlook emails to UK? I’ve looked everywhere for the setting and can’t find it, which rather supports my Microsoft conspiracy theory – like why allow your customers to, at least temporarily, change their default to UK English for the body of the email, but when they do the subject default spelling stays in US (immediately obvious when the automatic spell check kicks in and it wants to replace any use of the letter s in your subject to the letter z).

The second reason is because Apple Macintosh, another US company, and whose machines are used by all of the design fraternity (who I do a fair bit of my business with) ensure that even if the user sets their default on email to UK English, it will be US by the time it hits your PC. So probably the fault of the manufacturer rather than the user, and in any event your average designer has their mind on pictures not words. That said, I’m sure there’s a setting somewhere on the ‘apparently superior’ Mac which allows the written word to be written and sent with the correct spelling.

And thirdly, and more worryingly, anyone under the age of about 23 who’s therefore grown up only knowing a digital world (well, other than when they were in nappies and the first few years of primary school) doesn’t know there’s a difference between UK and US English so anything you get from them is in the latter. And that’s even if they’re a graduate (frightening).

Why does all this matter? It matters because the excessive use of the letter z (which Americans, for reasons I still don’t understand, use instead of the letter s wherever possible) irritates the hell out of me and directly contributes to early stages of grumpy old man syndrome – which is best avoided in my view. But more seriously and for those the third reason applies to, I just think it’s poor form on the part of the user. (No point getting grumpy with Microsoft and Mac – like they’re going to listen to me…)

So come on good people of the UK and in particular the bright young graduates, change your default settings to UK English and keep changing them however many times they get changed back by the big (and in this context I don’t mean ‘obese’) bad Americans.

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