Practice vs Practise: Can’t we get along?
“You have spelled practise inconsistently.” It’s a comment I see from at least one technical reviewer on every textbook I edit.
While it’s not inconsistent, I agree that the Canadian/British distinction between practice and practise is a needless layer of complexity. And, it’s a distinction I need to check every time. I’ve memorized the difference between affect and effect — being primarily a science editor, this comes up a lot — but for practi(c/s)e, I rely on a sticky note on my monitor.
So, given a fresh client with no house style, I wondered if I should take the opportunity to simplify. I ventured to ask my colleagues online if I would be excommunicated for making such a call…
Release the hounds!
It turns out that Canadian editors DO have strong feelings about spellings that set us apart from our US counterparts. Here are some typical comments:
“Having had to learn these distinctions, I still think that they are worth keeping. And as others have said, once you allow one to slide, where do you stop — license/licence, travelled/traveled, etc. It's a slippery slope. Easier to pick one dictionary and make do, as my mum would have said,” said one editor whom I shall not name.
“We suggest staff use the first option given in CanOx,” said one managing editor.
But, when was the last time you looked at The Canadian Oxford Dictionary? Because, this is what I see:
practice n. & v. • n. (also practise) 1 the actual doing of something...
practise v. & n. • v. (also practice) 1 tr. perform habitually...
I've been reading the "how to use this dictionary" section in the front matter of CanOx, but it doesn't seem to explain the intent of the order of parts of speech given for an entry.
It does say that the headwords are listed in alphabetical order. What? All this time I’ve been smugly saying “we use the first option” when all that meant was it is first option in alphabetical order?!
“I don't think the two different spellings are inconsistent," wrote another editor-who-shan't-be-named. "They are two different words. Spelling the verb with S makes the distinction clearer and helps the reader parse the sentence.”
Americans can figure out the meaning from the context. And really, if the reader can’t, the sentence needs more work than sorting out the c/s issue.
Switching to a single spelling of “practice” was part of Noah Webster’s spelling reform mission, which took form as a dictionary that now goes by the name of Merriam-Webster.
As for using the “current” CanOx: the last one was published in 2004, and in 2008 the publisher shut down the Canadian dictionary division. In the opening line of the preface to my 1998 edition, the dictionary says it is a “description of Canadian English [in…] everyday life.”
Well, no one has updated the record of current Canadian English usage in a decade. I wonder what the practic/se is now.
Who’s with me?