grey and gray

Tuesday July 08, 2008 @ 11:27 AM (UTC)

In my third semester in the MFA, I got a marginal note from my advisor: “grey is Engl. spelling – gray is U.S. spelling”. On the next page, he circled ‘gray’ (pushing consistency), and by the end of that semester I had added “find/replace grey” to the list of final touches I must put on a story before sending it out.

I actually remember having trouble with this as a child. We largely learn to spell by reading, or at least I did, and massive numbers of the books I read as a child were British. I remember being admonished for writing ‘colour’ and ‘flavour’ as a first- or second-grader, and my indignation at the unfairness. It was in books! How could it be wrong if it was spelled that way in books? But some variations between British and American English are further under the radar than ‘glamour’ and ‘theatre’. Enforcement of ‘gray’ was not widespread, and I wasn’t sure which I should use. I remember misspelling my grandmother’s name as ‘Vey’ instead of ‘Vay’ – I don’t think my parents realized it, but that was because of ‘grey’.

Now that I realize the distinction, it’s interesting to see that, while I obviously prefer ‘grey’, I use both. Search finds 69 non-Grey City hits for ‘grey’, 31 non-name hits for ‘gray’ just on this site. Heck, I even spell Marvel Girl’s secret identity both ways. I’m hemorrhaging geek-cred while we speak. At any rate, I think I use the word ‘grey’ for more subtle or numinous hues and connotations, whereas I reach for the American ‘gray’ for flatter, darker tones. Zombies are gray. Skies over oceans are grey. No wonder I’ve been using the latter extensively in my thesis. One wonders what other linguistic quirks I will discover in myself as I turn a disciplined eye to my writing!


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