Theater or Theatre in U.S. spelling?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Pedro y La Torre, May 30, 2007.

  1. Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Hauts-de-Seine, France
    English (Ireland)
    As Americans generally change -re endings to -er, I am a bit confused as to the spelling of theatre.

    In many written articles I see it spelled -er but I'm beginning to come across almost as many with an -re ending and indeed the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles is spelled -re.

    So, are both spellings now accepted? Or is -er still to be preferred?
  2. dobes Senior Member

    bratislava, slovakia
    US English(Boston/NY)
    I think of -er as normal American spelling, but you know we admire our cousins across the Atlantic and like to imitate them, especially when it comes to theater, at which they excel. So lots of our theaters are called theatres, probably in an effort to make them seem of a higher quality. We certainly recognize both spellings, though even now 'theatres' in my post is underlined in red....

    When I was a child, I often read British literature and then carried the spellings over into my own school essays. I remember being marked down for "theatre" and "grey", though I use "grey" in preference to "gray" to this day. In law school, "judgement'" got the red pen from some professors but not from others. But I think it's safe to say that "theatre" is among the most recognized and acceptable British spellings in the US.
  3. Blumengarten Senior Member

    America / English
    When I was in school (in the '70's) I was taught that the onlyl acceptable spelling was "theater," but now it seems that "theater" refers exclusively to cinema, while "theatre" is used for the stage.
  4. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    I wonder if this thread has something to do with my post in Culture Discussion forum:confused: (sorry, I'm still daydreaming:D)

    I think they are both acceptable nowadays, though I wonder how kids with this kind of (British) spelling are treated in schools.....As for me, I use whichever I "happen" to think of at the moment when I'm writing, but I'm often "criticized" by my fellow Americans of my "Britishness" (is there even such a word:confused::D)

    Anyway, I admit that any word ends with "re" doesn't look "American" enough:D
  5. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
  6. NRaye1960 New Member

    My understanding was that theater referred to the building but theatre referred to the art. Noah Webster decided to change the spelling of words such as theatre, centre, etc in an effort to thumb his nose at our British we have him to thank for this ongoing confusion!! ;)
  7. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    Welcome to the forums, NRaye1960. I gather you have yet to follow the link to the movie theater thread. Your characterization of Noah Webster's motivation is entertaining, but not accurate.
  8. NRaye1960 New Member

    I meant no disrespect to Mr Webster but it was he who changed the spelling and, according to research, his reason was to differentiate between the American spelling and the British spelling.

    No, I did not go to the thread you mentioned because this was the thread that came up when I asked my question.
  9. eddiejc1 Member

    Here is my two cents worth. If you go to the web site for every multiplex chain in the United States---the spelling of what used to be "theater" is now "theatre." Furthermore, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences hold the Oscar ceremonies at...the Kodak Theatre. Also, every Broadway venue I've looked up now uses the spelling "theatre."

    For me, the conclusion in unmistakable--the former American spelling of "theater" is dying out, and "theatre" is being in its place.
  10. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    These days, their teachers probably don't know the difference.

    While Webster might have gotten his spellings accepted merely on nationalistic grounds, I rather suspect that he made the argument that dropping "u" from the "-our" suffix, regularizing "-re" to "-er" (as in the much larger numbers of "agent" words where the syllable has the same pronunciation), and other reforms would make it easier to teach literacy to poor children who could not spend a lot of time in school. He probably wasn't concerning with efficient typesetting through elimination of an odd letter here or there.

    Theodore Roosevelt was also a devotee of simplified spellings, in his case such as although and thru, and I think he managed to impose them on the Federal bureaucracy between 1901 and 1908, but the did not last past the inauguration of William Howard Taft, and had not been widely accepted in the rest of the country in the meantime.
  11. mplsray Senior Member

    Noah Webster was in favor of phonetic spelling rather than etymological spelling, which is one reason for the changes in theater and color, which had come to us by way of French. Some of his reforms never did gain acceptance.

    Roosevelt tried to simplify spelling by first having the United States Government Printing Office adopt a list of phonetic spellings. Congress undid this by refusing funding for it.

    It seems to me that theatre is acceptable in American English mainly in proper names.
  12. eddiejc1 Member

    Do you mean that people will refer to a specific place as "AMC Theatres" or "The New Amsterdam Theatre", but use "theater" to refer to either the performing or cinematic arts? I still think that "theater" overall is declining. I do notice that when I Googled "New Amsterdam Theatre", several references to "theater" came up. Nevertheless, the official spelling according to the web site is "theatre."
  13. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    What might be happening is a phenomenon of American advertising, in which fraudulent language drives out honest. In this case, if "theatre" is perceived as somehow "better," because more "sophisticated," "elite," or something, than "theater," then there will be a reaction among ticket-buyers, or at least owners of cinemas and drama houses will fear that there will be one, that "eww, it's only a theater, not a theatre." In another thread I commented on the similar use of "crispy" instead of merely "crisp." Once one restaurant or food manufacturer describes its product as "crispy,"its competitors are likely to fear that customers will think their product inferior if they describe it as merely "crisp," which they are afraid customers will think is limp and soggy compared to something that is "crispy." Whether any consumer research has actually proved that Americans are that dumb, I don't know, but restaurants aren't taking any chances, and neither, it appears, are cinema and drama-house owners and operators. Next, I suppose, we will start seeing announcements of the "programmes" at our "theatres."
  14. eddiejc1 Member

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Fabulist. This also is probably the reason why of all the British words written with "ou"---"honour", "colour", "valour", etc.---the one case where the British version is preferred by Americans is "glamour." Of course, in the case of Broadway I would not be surprised if another factor is that the Great White Way isn't just dependent on tickets sold to American tourists but also INTERNATIONAL tourists, and outside the United States British English (at least as far as writing goes) is preferred.
  15. lamarbrog New Member

    English- Texas (Houston)
    I've used "Theatre" for as long as I can remember, although I certainly recognize "Theater" as being a proper spelling. (I played an online game made by a company in the UK for a few years in my early teens, this may be the source of that.)

    I never use "Centre" for "Center".

    "Grey" has always been my preference over "Gray" since to me it just seems to more closely match how I say the word. I will often use "Gray", though, in order to conform to the generally accepted spelling.

    I don't use the word "judgement" often enough to know exactly what spelling I use (it may vary).

    I use "Defence" and "Defense" interchangeably. I don't really prefer either, just depends how my fingers hit the keys.

    I used to use "Honour", but somehow got the notion it was incorrect, and began using "Honor".

    I've never used "Colour" and don't intend to.

    I've always used "Valour", and was not aware that "Valor" was an acceptable spelling until now.
  16. Fabulist Banned

    Annandale, Virginia, USA
    American English
    We've gone far afield from "theatre/er," but the U.S. Armed Forces use "Valor," not "Valour."
  17. Mansolaris New Member

    India - English & Bengali
    I don't quite know what to make of this distinction that 'theater' is venue and 'theatre' is performance. It's like saying, "There's a theatre on in the theater," which sounds not only confused and awful but also plain wrong. 'The City of New York Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting' cheerfully breaks two imperatives in the canon of American English - the spelling ('theatre' instead of 'theater') and the serial comma ('Theatre and Broadcasting' instead of 'Theatre, and Broadcasting'). In fact, 'The City of New York Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting' is very plummy and positively the Queen's E. Going by phonetics, American English should be spelling it 'theatre', given its use of the intervocalic alveolar tap; and British English should be spelling it 'theater' (non-rhotic, but with a schwa). But Brit English and American English are, equally, languages in flux, and, these days, the pond isn't really so big that they can't borrow from each other as and when the mood comes upon them. The world of publishing seems to understand better than most casual users of English the dynamics of lexical hybridity. Publishing in dialectal English (other than the British E and the American E) is collectively growing faster than these two canons combined; and in postcolonial nations, British publishers are tailoring styles to suit the wearer, so to speak: mostly British E spellings but with the American E z (legitimize, canonize, valorize...). I gather they're trying to 'judiciously' mix the orthodox and the heteroclite.
  18. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    It all wants to sound good but it's unsound at the foundations. The serial comma is not an imperative of American English, and the "ize" forms of legitimize, canonize and valorize come first in the very British Concise Oxford, as you'll see by putting those words in the Search box at the top of the page. Make these pronouncements as though they're fact and you throw the rest of your arguments into question.

    Before you respond, if we're going to revive this thread, let's stay focused on the topic of theater/theatre.
  19. Mansolaris New Member

    India - English & Bengali

    Now that I've wandered all over the active volcanic region of spelling - as have most of the posts here - "the topic of theater/theatre", which has pretty much exhausted itself, won't need any further comments from me. I really did (mis)interpret this thread as having a wider scope, and significance, than a blink-and-you'll-miss-it discussion on just theater versus theatre.

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 30, 2016

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