shades of grey and gray

Calm your fluttering little hearts, I’m not about to go into a discussion about that smutty little novel-turned-film. No, instead I’m going to talk about spelling and one particularly annoying variant between British English and American English: the difference between grey and gray.

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Yang Yongliang (杨泳梁), From the New World (来自新大陆) (detail), 2014

If you check the dictionary, it’ll probably list ‘grey’ as chiefly British and ‘gray’ as chiefly American. So … what of those who use both? I am a proud American English user and use the American spellings of color (v. colour), organization (v. organisation), traveled (v. travelled), inquiry (v. the inquiry/enquiry divide), and meter (v. metre). Oh, and the last letter of the alphabet? That’s a ‘zee’, not ‘zed’.

But ya know what? I use both ‘grey’ and ‘gray’. I also use both ‘theatre’ and ‘theater’ – although for different things. The stage ends in ‘-re’ and cinema is ‘-er’ – a distinction that I’m not alone in making. Yet when I use both ‘grey’ and ‘gray’, drawing a difference between ‘gray’ for a warmer hue and ‘grey’ for a cooler/lighter/steelier/bluer variant, suddenly I’m a complete weirdo. Am I? Really now? I checked on the web and there are others who think like me. Then again, on the internet you’re bound to find someone who agrees with you.

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Pang Yun (庞云), Portrait of Trees No. 3 (树的肖像3) (detail), 2014

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Li Jinghu (李景湖), Sea Breeze (海风) (detail), 2009

In general, I use the spelling ‘gray’ to describe the colors on a ‘grayscale’. I fully realize that I am in the minority with my double usage of theatre/theater and that I am practically alone on a deserted island for grey/gray, so as a rule, if I’m writing something official or for publication (peer-reviewed, academic, in print, or must conform to CMOS), then I only use ‘gray’ and ‘theater’ for the sake of consistency and not confusing everyone with my non-standard spelling distinctions. But I guess this duality is what happens when you study so much (British) English that both end up feeling quite natural. Although serial commas are a must.

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american english is the correct english

Did you ever see such a controversial statement? Granted I’m biased, but American English seems to be the preferred (or at least more prevalent) form of English in the world. In the process of writing a bunch of text for work, I’ve been slowly but diligently switching every piece of the gallery’s written material into American English. American English for the win! Hoorah! Go USA!

When I first started, I didn’t want to rock the boat so I tried following the existing standards, but that quickly got confusing. So instead of going back after typing each paragraph to add in extra letters or remove commas, I went ahead and switched it all. Now ‘color’, ‘center’, ‘organize’, and ‘traveled’ are all spelled correctly. Oh, and the biggie: ‘one, two and three’ has become ‘one, two, and three’. Oh yes. Ladies and gentlemen, I have introduced the serial comma and there is no turning back now.

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This is Panel 3 of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., which is hodgepodged from a bunch of different sources. It’s only making an appearance in this blog post to facilitate a transition in topic.

The nearby Panel 1 is a somewhat butchered excerpt of the Declaration of Independence, but as in the official text, it lacks the serial comma. How un-American! The Declaration of Independence famously says “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Capitalization done in the style of the time (with nouns capitalized) and no serial comma. But did you realize that there’s a different version? I quoted from the text of the signed, handwritten version, which is considered the official version, but the printed version has “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” and Jefferson’s rough draft has the serial comma too! He was a patriot!

Regardless, all is forgiven because this was two centuries ago, and the CMOS had not yet been established. Yay American English! Yay Chicago!

what’s in a name?

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II.2.47-48)

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I’ve been working at an art gallery here in Shanghai for the past few months, and in that time I have been [job untitled], curatorial assistant, art director, and now curator. My friends on LinkedIn and Facebook are probably as confused as I am. Well, my main responsibility is organizing the exhibitions – coming up with exhibition themes, writing press releases, and deciding on titles. And you know what? Titles are hard! It’s nerve-wracking to try encapsulating a whole idea (of someone else’s work) in a few words. Thank goodness there are nifty sites like this generator to help.

Because I’ve switched from architecture to the art field, I’m discovering a whole different way of looking at and talking about the world. I still consider myself an architect in many ways, but I’m trying to learn the lingo, this so-called International Art English (of which there was a big hulabaloo about), referred to elsewhere as artspeak or “The Joke That Forgot It Was Funny.” Oh gosh. Architects are known for having their own jargon and sometimes talking in a pompous holier-than-thou manner (quoting Foucault with wild abandon for instance), but in general are much more down to earth because they have real things to deal with, like gravity.

But art? Well that’s a whole different ballgame. Oy. I barely followed the Foucault crap. Happy Valentine’s Day! Happy Lantern Festival! The picture is of roses from the Queens Botanical Garden when I went last summer with my grandmother. You know, back when times were simple and a rose was just a rose ….

fire engine = fur injun

My accent has been variously described as: adorable, no accent at all, hard to locate, Southern, melodic, and hickish. My accent is a mixture of different locations, experiences, and languages, but these days I speak with a fairly standard American accent … most of the time. Everyone has an accent derived from his/her personal history even though our regional differences are subsiding and people are choosing to mask their accents as our society becomes more inundated with mass media and easily comprehended communication is prized.

For me, artifacts of past accents pop up intermittently via regional turns of phrase (bless your heart) or different terminology (coke) or words that are inherent to the dialect (ya’ll, howdy) or downright bad grammar (had broughten). Or I elongate certain vowels (egg, wow) or pronounce silent letters (salmon) or drop the beginning ‘h’ (humble, Houston) or blend letters together (Louisville, New Orleans). And then there’s the twang that comes out strong with the ‘ir’ vowel combination (wire, iron, briar). So yeah … not so standard American, eh? But who wants to be boring and standard?

Moral of the story? If you’re a little kid just learning to read and you point to an unfamiliar word and think I’m saying ‘fur Injun,’ what I’m really saying is ‘fire engine.’ Sigh. Poor kid, he’s never going to learn to read.