2 Spellings of Gray. Or Grey.

Photo credit: Ani Kolleshi @ anikolleshi

It must be because I’ve been plowing through Mark Greaney’s Gray Man novels – I got to thinking about the spelling of the word “gray,” which seems to be in a “dynamic” state just now.

As a child I learned the basic rule – Americans spell it “gray;” the English spell it “grey.” The first warning of change swam into my ken when I read an interview with Colleen McCullough, author of the besteller, The Thorn Birds. I think it was in the 1980s. She said, as I recall, that she always spelled it “gray,” except when describing eye color. “Grey” just seemed right for eyes, she said.

And it did seem right in that case. Maybe it’s the mirroring of the two vowels, “e” and “y.” There seems to be a suggestion of something kind of blue-grey in the English spelling. At least for me.

Then, years later, along comes the novel, Fifty Shades of Grey (Sorry, I will not link to it). It became a huge phenomenon and Americans began to see that “ey” spelling in front of their faces all day long. It seems to have imprinted itself on a lot of them.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that sexual excitement increases memorability.

In any case, it seems to be catching on. I’ve noticed that James Lileks consistently spells it “grey” over at the Daily Bleat. I expect that has more to do with the time he’s spent in England than with Fifty Shades.

But it looks (to me) as if we’re in the midst of a spelling shift in this country. The English are winning this one. Gradually.

Me, I’m going to stick with “gray,” even though I’ll admit I kind of like “grey.” I’m an anglophile, after all, and there is a certain nuance with the “ey.”

But I stick with the old rules, unless there’s good reason to drop them. And “gray” has committed no crime deserving of termination.

4 thoughts on “2 Spellings of Gray. Or Grey.”

  1. I think Earl Grey did this damage on me. I usually spell the color with an ‘e’ and only sometimes wonder if that’s right. There’s a road near me (and a postage stamp-sized town) called Graysville, but I spell it with an ‘e’ before correcting it.

  2. Since I lived in London for two years back in the 80’s I have insisted on spelling colour and honour with a u. On the other hand I tend to be rather random whether I use an e or a in grey. That’s a gray area.

  3. Living in “Dixie”, it’s always been “grey” to me. A lot of Southern culture per se is from English (and Scottish and Irish) culture of times past.

  4. I am sure that I have held to “grey” ever since I was a teenager, i.e. for near 50 years, because that was the way Tolkien spelled the word.

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