H.L. Mencken (18801956). The American Language. 1921.
French loan-words from words derived directly from the Latin, but Tucker shows7 that this argument is quite nonsensical, even assuming that the distinction has any practical utility. Ambassador, ancestor, bachelor, editor, emperor, error, exterior, governor, inferior, metaphor, mirror, progenitor, senator, superior, successor and torpor all came into English from the French, and yet British usage sanctions spelling them without the u. On the other hand it is used in arbour, behaviour, clangour, flavour and neighbour, which are not French at all. Tucker goes on:
Even in ardour, armour, candour, endeavour, favour, honour, labour, odour, parlour, rigour, rumour, saviour, splendour, tumour and vapour, where the u has some color of right to appear, it is doubtful whether its insertion has much value as suggesting French derivation, for in the case of twelve of these words the ordinary reader would be quite certain to have in mind only the modern spellingardeur, armure, candeur, faveur, honneur, labeur, odeur, rigneur, rumeur, splendeur, tumeur and vapeurwhich have the u indeed but no o (and why should not one of these letters be dropped as well as the other?)while endeavour, parlour and saviour come from old French words that are themselves without the udevoir, parleor and saveor. The u in all these words is therefore either useless or positively misleading. And finally in the case of colour, clamour, fervour, humour, rancour, valour and vigour, it is to be remarked that the exact American orthography actually occurs in old French! Finally, I said, but that is not quite the end of British absurdity with these -our -or words. Insistent as our transatlantic cousins are on writing arbour, armour, clamour, clangour, colour, dolour, flavour, honour, humour, labour, odour, rancour, rigour, savour, valour, vapour and vigour, and most unpleasant as they find the omission of the excrescent u in any of these words, they nevertheless make no scruple of writing the derivatives in the American wayarboreal, armory, clamorous, clangorous, colorific, dolorous, flavorous, honorary, humorous, laborious, odorous, rancorous, rigorous, savory, valorous, vaporize and vigorousnot inserting the u in the second syllable of any one of these words. The British practice is, in short and to speak plainly, a jumble of confusion, without rhyme or reason, logic or consistency; and if anybody finds the American simplification of the whole matter unpleasant, it can be only because he is a victim of unreasoning prejudice against which no argument can avail.
If the u were dropped in all derivatives, the confusion would be less, but it is retained in many of them, for example, colourable, favourite, misdemeanour, coloured and labourer. The derivatives of honour exhibit clearly the difficulties of the American who essays to write correct English. Honorary, honorarium and honorific drop
Note 7. American English; New York, 1921, p. 37. [back]