“One of these days, I’m gonna get organiz-ized…”

So said Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver, during an excruciating attempt to sustain an onscreen conversation. But discomfort surrounding the word ‘organized’ isn’t limited to an awkward date with social activist Travis Bickle. In fact, it’s an example of a long-running misconception about British versus American English.

A common complaint of wannabe pedants is that the use of the suffix -ize is WRONG because IT IS AMERICAN. But that’s not strictly accurate. In fact, using ‘organize’ in British English is perfectly acceptable. The Oxford English Dictionary, for starters, lists the -ize form as the primary version, as do all major UK dictionaries.

robert_deniro_waiter

Robert DeNiro’s waiter? Just out of shot.

While British and American English have been subject to vastly differing developmental factors, they’re still regional versions of the same language. So let’s clear things up – British English does indeed use -ise. But it also uses the original -ize as a variant – although most people don’t. And while American English uses -ize, it doesn’t accept -ise.

sign

Is that a good sign?

Just like American English’s tendency to splice -ize onto nouns to make verbs (burglarize, accessorize, BetteDavisize*), this practice isn’t ‘wrong’. It’s simply a stylistic choice. So it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t the spelling transgression some would have you believe. And anyone who disagrees can take it up with Mr Bickle…

*I made that one up