Jewelry, Jewellery.. let’s call the whole thing off!

Every time I write the word ‘jewellery’ in this blog a nasty red line appears under it telling me I’m spelling it incorrectly. I’m sure most people are thinking, a minor annoyance but look at my little word bubble thingy.

Wordle Cloud
Wordle Cloud

The word jewellery comes up a lot in my blog posts. (You can make your own word bubble on It takes your website and compiles this image from all the words you use, the size of the word is determined by how frequently it is used.)

While I was writing this mornings post I had the same spell check problem with jewellery. So I’ve shelved that post for the moment and I’m going to find out who spells jewellery, jewelry and why?!

It turns out that it’s the American spelling that’s playing havoc with my spell check. Which is a bit annoying considering they are the only English speaking country that spell it this way, Canadians are happy to leave well enough alone!

Fear not all my American readers, I don’t blame your country. The blame lies with one man, Mr Noah Webster. Webster was an American writer who took it upon himself to reform the American school system.  His aim was to

rescue our native tongue

as he believed the English language has been corrupted by the British aristocracy. A by product of this was the movement he led demanding simplification of word spelling. And of course my much used word jewellery fell victim to this movement.

His goal was to provide a uniquely American approach to teaching children. As a former teacher he had seen how children would be taught using English textbooks. He believed that Americans should learn from American books and so began writing ‘A Grammatical Institute of the English Language’  This consisted of a speller (1783), a grammar (1784) and a reader (1785). These books went on to be used in American schools and his ‘blue-back speller’ books taught five generations of children how to spell  (incorrectly!) And it wasn’t just jewellery he decided to change. He preferred s to c  in words like defense. He changed ‘re’ at the end of words to ‘er’ like in centre. He dropped ‘l’s and ‘u’s’ all over the place. He also tried to change ‘tongue’ to ‘tung’ but it never caught on.

Before I started ranting about how he can’t just go meddling with language I decided to see where the English got the word to find out who’s version is closest to the truth. The word jewellery is derived from the word jewel, no surprises there but the word jewel is actually taken from the French word ‘jouel’ around the 13th century. So there’s the first example of the spelling being changed. When I delved a little further I found that the word jouel is taken from the Latin word ‘jocale’. The nice thing about this word is that it means play thing.

There you have it, the history of the word jewellery. So every time your computer tells you to spell ‘centre’ as ‘center’ or ‘colour’ as ‘color’ you can blame my good friend Mr Webster. The other things you can blame Mr Webster for are the Webster dictionary and spelling bees. Now that I know the origin of the word and how’s it’s changed over history I’m happy to ignore my spell check safe in the knowledge that I’m doing my bit to preserve the language!



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