Canceled vs Cancelled: American vs British Spelling Explained

 

The English language is full of idiosyncrasies that can easily trip up even the most seasoned writers, and the words “canceled” and “cancelled” are prime examples. While they appear nearly identical and convey the same meaning, the spelling difference reflects diverging American and British English conventions. Understanding the subtle distinctions between the two can enhance your writing and help you target the appropriate audience.

Historical Background

Both “canceled” and “cancelled” originated from the Latin word “cancellare,” which means ‘to make similar to a lattice,’ in essence, to delete or obliterate. Over time, the term evolved in English to mean the act of nullifying or voiding something previously arranged or set.

The spelling difference primarily emerged in the 19th century, influenced by language authorities and lexicographers of the time. American English generally simplified certain British spellings, often dropping additional letters, as in “colour” (British) versus “color” (American). Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language was particularly influential in standardizing American spellings, including the single ‘l’ in “canceled.”

The Rule of Thumb

The choice between “canceled” and “cancelled” essentially boils down to your target audience or the style guide you are following.

Canceled: Common in American English.
Cancelled: Preferred in British, Canadian, and Australian English.

Examples

To illustrate the application of each term, let’s look at a few examples in sentences:

Canceled (American English)

1. The event was canceled due to bad weather.
2. She canceled the subscription after one month.
3. They’ve canceled the flight because of technical issues.
4. I received a notification that my appointment was canceled.
5. The project was canceled before it even started.

Cancelled (British, Canadian, and Australian English)

1. The cricket match was cancelled owing to rain.
2. He cancelled his order when he found a better deal.
3. The trains were cancelled due to a strike.
4. She felt relieved after her meeting was cancelled.
5. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the tour was cancelled.

Exceptions and Shared Uses

It’s worth noting that the word “cancellation” is spelled with two ‘l’s in both American and British English. This is one of those interesting exceptions where the American simplification rule doesn’t apply.

Moreover, the terms are interchangeable in some informal settings or when the target audience is global, though adhering to a consistent style throughout your writing is usually advisable.

Conclusion

The discrepancy between “canceled” and “cancelled” serves as a prime example of the small but impactful variations that exist within the English language. While the words are functionally identical, the spelling choice can signal your intended audience or adherence to a specific style guide. By being mindful of these subtle differences, you not only showcase your attention to detail but also enhance the accuracy and polish of your written communication. So the next time you find yourself needing to nullify plans, think about who your audience is before you decide on “canceled” or “cancelled.”

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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