Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why don't Americans write devor instead of devour to be consistent with the pervasiveness of using variations such as color and armor?

share|improve this question
23  
+1 for delicious trolling of American English speakers –  Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 17 '11 at 18:06
16  
Why aren't most Englishmen left-handed, to be consistent with the pervasiveness of driving on the left side of the road? –  LarsH Nov 17 '11 at 20:49
1  
@LarsH Because the left hand was used to, uh, wipe prior to the advent of toilet paper. –  Paperjam Nov 18 '11 at 0:06
1  
@LarsH if they were left-handed they would have drive and ride they are horses on the right side. Did you got the point ? –  omeid Nov 18 '11 at 13:06
    
@OmeidHerat: I think I understand what you're saying. Sort of. –  LarsH Nov 18 '11 at 15:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 89 down vote accepted

No it wouldn't, because devour doesn't rhyme with colour/color or armour/armor. It does rhyme with hour.

In other words, the ending -our is only respelled as -or when it represents an unstressed, r-colored schwa [ɚ]. The stressed diphthongs in hour, devour, flour, etc. retain their original spelling.

share|improve this answer
11  
then again, hour also rhymes with flower - yay English! –  Hackworth Nov 17 '11 at 15:09
6  
I suppose the same answer applies for the word contour too? –  Rich Nov 17 '11 at 15:56
3  
The wikipedia article on the subject does a fairly good (if technical) job of explaining this as well: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Hannele Nov 17 '11 at 16:17
2  
@Rich: contour rhymes with moor and not hour, but aside from that detail, yes. –  Peter Shor Nov 17 '11 at 18:44
2  
I'm pretty sure he was being sarcastic. –  jhocking Nov 17 '11 at 23:23

English is a language influenced by Latin. The word colour/color comes from "color, -oris" whereas armour/armor comes from "armatura, -ae".

"-or"/"-our" are all Latin based noun endings that can be found in other European languages too, for instance in French or German.

"devour" on the other hand is a verb and verb endings follow different rules. "devour" comes from "devorare". The ending "-are" got dropped as centuries passed. Something similar happened to initiare -> initate, abdicare -> abdicate and many other similar words.

share|improve this answer
4  
This doesn't really explain why some endings have kept the "-our" spelling. –  Hannele Nov 17 '11 at 15:35
18  
English is most certainly NOT a Latin-based language, it's Germanic. Yes it has borrowed from Latin and Latin-based languages (and others) but that's very different. –  Wudang Nov 17 '11 at 16:02
5  
English is half based on Anglo-Saxon (the Saxons conquered England in the 5th century) and half on Norman (the Normans conquered England in the 11th century). When Anglo-Saxon speaking inhabitants had to communicate with their Norman masters, a mixture came up which produced the archaic form of the English spoken today. Norman is a Latin-based language. –  Irene Nov 17 '11 at 16:14
12  
Although ironically the latin for "colour" is "color" - the U comes from the Norman French spelling. Normans were big on castles and fighting, a little lax when it came to spelling –  mgb Nov 17 '11 at 16:35
4  
Partly because English inherited via French (dévour) via Old French (dévorer) and the Latin as Raku says. So blame the French! –  Wudang Nov 17 '11 at 17:05

"Color" and "armor" all end with the same sound as the word "or".

The ending of "devour" sounds the same as the word "our".

If we changed it to "devor" it would change the sound of the word. We changed the spelling because our way makes more pronunciation sense. You don't go around saying "col-hour" do you? Because that's what the British spelling looks like.

The real question should be: Why do the Brits use letters that have the wrong sound?

Why do they spell "practice" like "practise". It looks like it should be pronounced "prak-tize" when spelled that way. "Organize" vs "organise", "civilized" vs "civilised", etc. I could go on and on. The fact of the matter is that American English is more modernized (probably because we're a newer country.)

P.S. I'm not trying to be rude, but the British spellings look archaic to me.

share|improve this answer
2  
Color and armor may end with the same sound as or in your accent, but they end with a sound much closer to err in my (British) accent. Are you arguing that in en-gb we should write colerr and armerr? –  Peter Taylor Nov 29 '11 at 10:40
1  
@Peter: Color and armor end with the sound er in my (American) accent as well, as well as in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Assuming the pronunciation was the same 200 years ago, Webster replaced a four-way ambiguity (colour, barter, centre, mirror) with a two-way one. –  Peter Shor Dec 10 '11 at 12:37
    
Yay Webster! The last effective spelling reform in English. –  mgkrebbs Dec 20 '11 at 6:49

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.