Can I use "color" in one paragraph, but write "colour" in the next one? Yes, I just did it. But is it acceptable to do so when not talking about spelling differences?

closed as off topic by FumbleFingers, aedia λ, Daniel, kiamlaluno, simchona Dec 20 '11 at 2:49

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    You can do it (you just did), but you'll probably not make many friends either side of the Atlantic. Consistency is often more important than making the "right" choice. – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '11 at 18:30
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    To stretch this a bit further, in an exam situation (or when producing a piece of writing) in case you are a student such inconcistency is penalised. – Irene Dec 19 '11 at 18:41
  • @Irene Or "penalized" =) Jokes apart, I think your comments are better answers than the one below. – Jader Dias Dec 19 '11 at 19:15
  • Certainly. As in your question. Context, context, context. – Kris Dec 20 '11 at 6:46
  • @Irene also, inconsistency (on either side of the pond?) – Kris Dec 20 '11 at 6:49

The obvious reason to NOT used multiple different spellings is for consistency and to avoid confusion. If you write "color" in the first paragraph and "colour" in the second, a reader may well wonder if you are trying to make some point or just forgot what you were doing or can't make up your mind. At the very least, it would be distracting.

I can't think of any good reason TO do this. Well, other than because you are pointing out alternative spellings, or quoting from sources that use different spellings, or that sort of thing.

In the absence of a good reason to do it, and several good reasons not to do it, I would think you just shouldn't do it.


Neville Shute used to vary the spellings in his novels' dialog/ues depending on the nationality of the fictional character speaking.

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    I didn't know that, but if it's true it's definitely a situation where we should not encourage others to adopt the style of successful authors. – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '11 at 18:44
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    It's something I'd neither encourage nor repudiate. If someone wished to do it, I'd refer them to this quote from Strunk & White: "Do not use dialect unless your ear is good." Perhaps with accompanying observations on the "tin content" of the average ear. – Jonathan Van Matre Dec 19 '11 at 18:50
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    @Jonathan VM: You'd neither encourage nor repudiate? So you really have no opinion on whether consistency in spelling is a good thing or not? Wot ubowt variashunz nown onlee to the rita? – FumbleFingers Dec 19 '11 at 21:59
  • I was referring to the specific case of varying dialogue (consistently within a given character, I presume) as a way to express different national dialects. In that specific context, I'm content to shrug and say "As you like it." – Jonathan Van Matre Dec 19 '11 at 22:24

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