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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stupor or stupour?

Much to the cringing dismay of us Torontonians, the entire world now seems to know that our buffoon of a mayor admitted to smoking crack cocaine "in one of [his] drunken stupors". 

Of course, the burning question that occurs to Wordlady and her many followers is: 

"How is stupor spelled? If Rob Ford is Canadian, shouldn't he be in a drunken stupour rather than a drunken stupor?"

Apparently that is what the publisher of the Toronto Star, John Cruickshank, thinks in an article published November 6, How do you cover a deceiver without reporting mistruth?: "Ford says he tried crack once while in a drunken stupour."

But "stupor" is one of those words that is never spelled with an -our. Unlike the words we do spell with an -our ending (colour, labour, etc.), which stopped off in French before they landed in English, "stupor" came into English directly from its Latin origin, stupor (the etymology for which in the OED is "see stupid", and I bet the OED lexicographers don't even know Rob Ford). Both words come from the verb stupere (be stunned or benumbed).

We Canadians tend to hypercorrect such words, changing -or to -our just in case someone might -- shock, horror, or do I mean horrour -- mistake us for Americans. But our hypercorrection is incorrect. Stupor is the correct spelling (as is horror).

For the full story on why the British and most Canadians use -our endings while Americans use -or, see this post.

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  1. Shortly after moving to Winnipeg from the USA, I drove past a sign outside a restaurant that said "savor the flavour" or maybe it was 'savour the flavor". Anyway, whichever it was, it was wrong.

  2. I concur: the word stupOr is not in my "Canadian Press Caps and Spelling", which would indicate there's no "stupour" option.

  3. This got me thinking about other Canadian/British vs American things:
    1. Why do we pronounce the last letter 'zed'?
    2. Why do we pronounce lieutenant the way we do? It sure looks like it's French in origin, and 'leftenant' is nothing like the way the French would say it.

    1. You can find the answer to question 2 in my book Six Words You Never Knew...

  4. "shock, horror, or do I mean horrour"

    No, you mean "hourrour." You're welcome ...


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.