Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gray vs. Grey

In a round of editing I've been doing lately, I noticed I use both "grey" and "gray". If I had to pick, I would say that "grey" looks a bit better to me. Sometimes. Grey eyes, gray suit. Why do I do that?

A little bit of research via Dr. Google tells me that "gray" is primarily used in the US and that "grey" is primarily used in the UK.

From some discussion boards, I read that The Associated Press Style Book wants "gray". So for US editors, "grey" is probably going to look funny. The New York Times is ""The Gray Lady", right?

In A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L'Engle wrote:
When A Wrinkle in Time went into galleys, the copy editor -- I'm glad I haven't the faintest idea who it was -- had him/herself a ball. First of all, I do spell the English way; I was in an English boarding school when I was twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, and these are the years when spelling gets set. After I had been made to write h-o-n-o-u-r, for instance, a hundred times on a blackboard several hundred times, it was almost impossible for me to spell it h-o-n-o-r. The English use t-o-w-a-r-d-s and we use t-o-w-a-r-d. I like to use them both, depending on the rhythm of the sentence and the letter which begins the following word; sometimes the s is needed; sometimes not: this is, I realize, rather erratic, and I can't blame the copy editor who tries to talk me out of it. Then there's grey, which is English, and one very definite, bird-wing, ocean-wave color to me; and gray, which is American, and a flatter, more metallic color. Then there are the c and s words, such as practice or practise. Abour words like these I'm simply in a state of confusion, rather than aesthetic persuasion, as with grey or towards, and the copy editor can have his way. On the whole I tell the copy editor to go ahead and make the spelling American, but don't muck around with the punctuation.
I suppose I'll mostly strive for consistency in fiction, and go with sound in poetry. As I write that sentence, I realize that grey 'sounds' different in my head than 'gray'. Hm. Perhaps I need to think about this some more.


  1. Somehow, "gray" has always felt sort of contentless, literally only a name, as opposed to a "grey" that's more tightly-focused and emotionally meaningful.

  2. Randy, how do they spell it in Canada? Do they use the US or UK standard spelling?