Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Grey Area–Or Is It Gray?

I’m an American. I was born here, raised here, and, except for a week in Nova Scotia, a weekend at Niagara Falls, and two weeks in the Virgin Islands, I’ve never set foot outside the United States. I like some British television (Dr. Who; Monty Python, and yes, Downton Abbey, though I’m hopelessly behind), and a lot of British music, but I’m hardly an Anglophile. I’d love to cross the pond and visit Jolly Old, but, no offense intended, I have no desire to make it my permanent home.
So, why can’t I get grey and gray right?
I was dimly aware of a problem with it when I was writing PARALLEL LIVES. Whenever that word came up (and it came up a fair amount), I would pause—grey, or gray? I knew both were technically right, but that one was more right. And so I went with grey, because that one looked more right. But sometimes I went with gray, because  that one just rolled off my fingers. And sat some point, I’m sure I looked it up in the dictionary and found that ‘gray’ is the American usage. All right. Gray it is. (I should point out, I have problems with other ‘British’ words. I don’t take ‘offence’ at insults. When I played hockey, I played defense, not defence. A ‘bum’ is a guy who panhandles on the subway, my car has a trunk, not a boot. My problem seems to be exclusively with grey and gray. I don’t know why.)
This week, in addition to finally pushing myself on a new WiP (I mean, really pushing it; the story isn’t bursting out of my head at this point, but I’ve decided to force it a little bit, and things are moving), I decided to read through BARTON’S WOMEN. I’m trying very hard to give it an overview read, make sure I don’t have any glaring iconsistencies, continuity errors, etc., etc. I’m making notes, but not getting into minutiae.
Except there’s that grey/gray thing again. I came across the word, looked it up, realized I was again defaulting to grey, and made the switch. And then I did it again. And again. Yesterday, I did a ‘find all’ on my manuscript and found 19 instances of ‘grey.’ I will change them all.
And when the day comes for me to read over this new WiP, I will do it again.
Help me.

Do you have any words that consistently trip you up? What are they, and what do you do about them?

And, in celebration of this little word that gives me so much trouble, here’s the only top-10 hit from the Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey Gray.” Have a great weekend, all!

9 Responses

  1. I've had that trouble with gray/grey before too. I remember a teacher chastising me for using "grey" in school. And I was certain I had spelled it correctly. Hmmph!

    I, on the other hand, would rather just move to England and continue to use grey, however. 😀

  2. I looked it up recently and could swear that "grey" was the American English form…That's what I'm using now. I also use two spaces after periods, which is now typically frowned upon.

  3. I always use GREY. Same as I always use THEATRE. Spelling them the other way just looks wrong! As long as you're consistent, what does it matter, especially since it can go either way?

    I'd let a publisher TELL me which way they want it before I went and messed with my mind that way (or just do a find and replace before sending it off to them!).

  4. Yes words can be such fickle creatures. Glad you're pushing yourself into something new. We writers can get lethargic if we're not careful. Best of luck with the grey/gray dilemma. I was a teenager when I first learned Americans spelt colour without the 'u'.

  5. I'm Canadian and at times I get SO confused!!! I need my stories to have US spellings but when I teach I need to use Canadian spellings and then I've taught French and get those confused too… I can't tell you how many times I look up words now! Grey/gray bugs me too – I always think greyhound so grey… but then that doesn't work in my writing. 🙂

  6. I read a lot as a child, and I read a lot of English lit. My spelling always suffered. Now, I live in the UK and loads of words trip me up, both usage and spelling.

    Grey/gray is one of them. I have some tricky words on a list taped to my monitor, others I invent tools to keep them straight. Use grAy, because it has an "A" for America.

  7. Ah, that's a good idea, Jennifer–the trouble words. Since writing this post, however, I'm getting better at stamping out the grey before it becomes a permanent part of my writing.

  8. Words that trip me up:

    Gray and grey.

    I do have an excuse, however, having spent a large chunk of my formative years in England.

    On the other hand, I have no trouble with color and colour, bin and trashcan, bum and butt. I mean, bum sounds nicer but I'm a good Southern girl now and I can sit on my butt with the best of them.

    But grey and gray, no clue. I usually go with gray because it looks prettier. Grey if I'm talking about eye color or want to evoke a grey mood. Because grey looks dimmer.

    And darnit, Jennifer. I wish I hadn't read your comment. I can never unread it, and now I will forever know which is the British and which the American and the words have lost all their mystery. Now they're just words. Bummer. Which is not the same thing as Butter.

  9. That's really funny. And I totally learned something from that. And I still can't spell the word that is often confused with conscience that means you're awake and NOT passed out. You know the one I mean. I'd write it here but alas, I still cannot spell it!

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