From the workplace · Language

“-ize” and “-ization” or “-ise” and “-isation”

How do you spell words like minimize, maximize and theorize? Do you spell them with a “z” or with an “s” (minimise, maximise, theorise)? I’m a “z” man, not an “s” man, and have been for over 30 years. Back in the 1980s someone in publishing explained to me that “z” was closer to the classical root of these words and that was good enough for me. That’s why words like “compartmentalization” are spelt with a “z” throughout this Blog. I didn’t know whether the classical origin was Latin or Greek but found out last month while watching “Countdown”.

I have worked in many places – organizations if you like – where people rejected my spelling preference because it was “American” rather than English. At one training company in the 1990s the “house style” (I use the term loosely) was for “ise” and “isation”. This meant that while writing training materials for numerous versions of Microsoft Windows I was obliged to write phrases like, “The Minimize button will minimise the current window” or “Click Maximize to maximise the current window”. It never felt right.

Last month one of the contestants on an episode of “Countdown” apologized for using “the American spelling” of a word that contained “ize”. Susie Dent, a lexicographer at the Oxford English Dictionary, the goddess of dictionary corner, explained that the Oxford way is for “z” rather than “s”, though both spellings are accepted. “-ize” and “-ization” are closer to the Greek origins of these words. So now I know: it’s Greek rather than Latin, and if it’s good enough for Susie Dent and other Oxford lexicographers it will continue to be good enough for me.



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