When to use non-Australian spelling

June 17, 2013

Based on a recent writing tip I wrote for my work colleagues (all of whom are based in Australia and thus use Australian English in their documents).


Bottom line:

  • The spelling used for [our] documents is Australian English, and our authority is the Macquarie Dictionary
  • Exceptions: Proper nouns, such as names of organisations, buildings etc. – you MUST use the spelling in the official name

K asked: Just a question about the International Organisation for Standardisation… we refer to this as ISO and I want to check if this is acceptable. The use of ISO is so prevalent that it is actually difficult to find it used anywhere in full.

My response, based on some research: It’s spelled ‘International Organization for Standardization’ (note the US spelling) and the abbreviation is ‘ISO’ (note the odd placement of the letters compared to the order of the words in full).

The ISO website shows the correct title/spelling/word order and abbreviation: http://www.iso.org/iso/home.html. They obviously get asked about this a lot as they’ve written a whole section on why it’s ISO and not IOS here: http://www.iso.org/iso/home/about.htm (see the subheading for ‘Our name’: ‘Because ‘International Organization for Standardization’ would have different acronyms in different languages (IOS in English, OIN in French for Organisation internationale de normalisation), our founders decided to give it the short form ISO. ISO is derived from the Greek isos, meaning equal. Whatever the country, whatever the language, the short form of our name is always ISO.’)

F asked: How do I deal with ‘centre/center’ in the name of a building/department/organisation etc.? e.g. ‘London Engineering Centre’, or the ‘National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’, or the ‘Marine Mammal Center’

My response: Both British and Australian English use ‘centre’ (US uses ‘center’) when referring generically to a building complex or to the middle of something, but when it comes to proper names such as in your examples, you MUST use the spelling of the official name, no matter what your language is set to or what your spellchecker says.

TIP: A quick check as to whether center/center is used as a generic word or a proper name is to see if it’s capitalised and surrounded by other capitalised words that are associated with it. If so, then it’s likely to be a proper name. Compare We went to the shopping centre this afternoon (generic; could be any shopping centre, anywhere) with We spent an afternoon at the Dubai Shopping Center on our way back from Europe (proper name; specific – there’s only one shopping centre with this name). In the latter example, you have to spell it as ‘Center’ as this is its legal name.

[Links last checked June 2013]

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