Editors were gnashing tenses and teeth over coffee at Victoria’s Ogden Point Coffee on Saturday morning. We sat in front of the fireplace, looking at a stunning view of the Strait of Georgia, where ships and sailboats drifted by, speaking peaceful dreams.
However, at the table of ten or so (10 if you are following news-style), we testily tossed around opinions concerning the right spelling of dreamt or dreamed, learnt or learned, burned or burnt. Miss Robson, my sweet young teacher in Grade Two, taught the class to write learnt and all its irregular siblings with a t at the end. After all, she was straight from England. Canada was still a member of the Commonwealth, and British English was the language of the aspirational.
Some of our editors’ group have only worked in Canada; some only in North America; some in several English-speaking countries. One, usually too busy to show up, has written and edited pieces for more than 40 countries! My own English has been shaped by journalism school and work in both the U.S. and Canada.
You better believe that opinions at this group sometimes differ on the fine points of English, such as irregular verbs. We were all educated at different times and places. Political, colonial, hierarchical, emotional and financial currents sent (Note: not sended) the discussion in powerful directions. Over t‘s! Better to save those deconstructions for another venue than friendly collegial coffee.
A couple of days later, editor Ruth Bahri (British origin) followed up by sending our PEAVI listserv a couple of useful links. She suggests Grammar Girl and Google Ngram, noting the latter helps differentiate between US and British usage. Charmingly, she added the words we each long to be able to say:
I was right! I always have to have the last word!
Each word, each action, we speak our own past, our own dream-time.