Language / United Nations

UNHCR, British English and Arses.

I have not mentioned this but I started up at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last month. My work requires a lot of writing – mainly in British English.

Using British English in all documents and communications is an unwritten rule that I picked up very early on when my supervisor corrected my spelling of ‘program’. In the UK it usually spelled with an extra m and e at the end: programme (very reminiscent of the French spelling).

An American colleague assured me the other day: “Oh, programme is always spelled with an extra m and e at the end. Always.” He admitted to normally giving way in this respect but almost as an aside, confessed to never yielding to spelling words like ‘center’ the British way, ‘centre’ (I had such a hard time writing ‘centred’ in a text myself – it just looks so wrong!).

Since then I’ve been doing my best to suppress extra l’s (switching ‘enroll’ to ‘enrol’) and fighting the urge to write with z’s (changing ‘organize’ to ‘organise’). However, the other day I ran up against another spelling conundrum. In the same way that I suppressed the urge to write two l’s instead of one (as in ‘enrol’, as I just mentioned), I did the same with the word ‘assess’ and spelled it ‘asses’.

I consulted Google (and I am pretty sure it is spelled ‘assess’ in Britain, too) but that was the moment when I realized that I, too, would have to define my own spelling non-negotiables (the code-switching is really messing with me!).

How could I take myself seriously if I write ‘asses’ instead of ‘assess’? I just can’t. Sorry, not sorry.


2 thoughts on “UNHCR, British English and Arses.

  1. you know what…I work with UNHCR as well, for the past 11 years, and I don’t give a damn about British English and I write whatever I write as long as it doesn’t have a red line under it from microsoft word…just had a big talk with my manager about writing recognised and not recognized !!!

    those guys who care about such B** S*it are the bureaucrats that we need to flush out of the agency

    • LOL! I see I’m not the only one. The confusing this for me is that in the US we write most words with a z and a lot of British friends tell me it’s with an s – but then, when you look at the Oxford Dictionary, it says that z is the more commonly used! So much confusion, kind of funny though.

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