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