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Why, in US English, does the word glamour retain its u while humour, neighbour, and others have shed it?

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Read Rivers of London for more on this :) – Joe Blow Aug 16 '14 at 14:27
up vote 14 down vote accepted

Because it was not a French word, but a Scottish one. And we did lose a u — just not the u you were expecting.

Per the OED, it was a corruption of grammar, which during the 18th century was variously spelled glamer, glamor, glammar, and then in Scotland, as glaumour. That was one u too many, though, and it went then to glamour where it has remained ever since.

Then during the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott started using it in his literature, and it became popular throughout Anglophonia. The OED says:

Etymology: Originally Sc., introduced into the literary language by Scott. A corrupt form of grammar; for the sense cf. gramarye (and Fr. grimoire), and for the form glomery.

Its original sense was a spell, an enchantment, a dweomer — in effect, a charm. Its glamorous sense of fashion charm came later. There are lots of derived terms like glamour boy, glamour girl, glamour gift, glamour-learned, and of course, glamour puss.

Please see also the related question How and when did American spelling supersede British spelling in the US?, which mentions not only the historical spelling change for this word but for many others. The changes happened at different times to different words — and to this one, not at all.

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Interesting but I'm not sure how much it really answers the question. It identifies where this word came from but none of this, on its own, tells us why that made such a difference that the word still takes a '-our' suffix in American, I don't think. – Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 16 '14 at 13:39
"Because it was not a French word, but a Scottish one" – Joe Blow Aug 16 '14 at 14:28
According to english.stackexchange.com/questions/87978/…, Americans did not one day all start writing "humor" where previously they had written "humour". Instead, certain spellings became more or less popular as time passed. Americans do spell the word glamor, just not as often as we spell it glamour. – David K Aug 16 '14 at 14:42
Neighbour is not a French word, it's Germanic. – user88438 Aug 16 '14 at 18:34
@DavidK What I've heard is that Webster systematically discarded the u when he was constructing his dictionary. At the time, there was little consistency in American spelling, he set out to create definitive spellings. Over time it caught on. – Barmar Aug 18 '14 at 22:03

The reason the spelling wasn't changed is that Noah Webster didn't know about it.

The word glamour does not appear in the original 1828 Webster's Dictionary, so he couldn't change its spelling in that dictionary the way that he did for armour, honour, humour, neighbour, etc. In fact, it does not even appear in the 1892 Webster's International Dictionary, which is fairly surprising because Ngrams shows that the word was fairly widely used in the U.S. by then.

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