Test yourself by circling the one word in each of the following pairs that's spelled correctly.
Set 1: Long or short?
If you chose the second word in each pair of Set 1, you're following British spelling. In his American dictionaries published in the early 1800s, Noah Webster is credited with simplifying and standardizing the spelling of English words and trying to spell them phonetically.
Other "Webster-ized" American spellings: "ax," "color," "catalog" (as opposed to the British "axe," "colour," "catalogue").
Set 2: One word or two?
The most common forms of these are "voice mail," "online," "keyword" and "Web site." But don't rush to mark the others wrong.
The pace of communication in this Information Age may be condensing the common practice of melding two words into one, but the progress is uneven. Example: One dictionary lists "Webmaster," but "Web site."
The solution: Consider whether your audience will understand new compounds and decide within your organization when to change the style. While "email" appears to be gaining popularity, it faces a tougher road to acceptance than "ink-jet" becoming "inkjet." "Inkjet" simply merges two words, but the "e" in e-mail helps represent a separate sound that also stands for an entire word, "electronic."
Set 3: Commercial-speak
While simplified spellings are common in advertising and signage, the safest course in business writing is to stick with the formal variations: "night" and "through."
Some spelling preferences remain unresolved. Although several dictionaries list only "smoky" as correct, one includes "smokey" as an acceptable variation.
Always check formal titles, which may not conform to spelling rules. Smokey Bear has been promoting fire safety since 1944. The most-visited U.S. national park, in the Great Smoky Mountains, was created a decade earlier.
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