Briefly noted: in the 11/15/14 issue of the Economist, p. 83 in “Unchained malady”, on testing drugs and vaccines for Ebola fever:

This is called a “step-wedge” design and will be ue by another American government organisation, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Centres. Well, the Economist is a British publication, so it uses the British spelling centre rather than the American spelling center. (And they do this consistently in this case.) But, wait! That would be fine for the common noun (a centre of intellectual activity, etc.). But Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a proper name, and Centers is one of the words in it, so messing with its form is at least dubious.

It’s another conflict between faithfulness (Faith) — in brief, be failthful to the original, leave things the way you found them — and well-formedness (WF) — make them conform to your local practices. There’s no one “right” resolution of these conflicts, though you can make a case for one resolution or the other in specific cases. Here, altering a proper name for the sake of WF makes me very uneasy; it feels to me like insisting that in French contexts my personal name should be spelled Arnaud or Arnauld.

Even in this case, people don’t cleave to WF in proper names everywhere (see my discussion of WHISKEY vs. WHISKY here). In particular, the spelling Centre is sometimes used for U.S. institutions, to lend a tone of British class to them — “the Centre for Women helps women in Tampa Bay to succeed both personally and professionally” (link), the Westfield San Francisco Centre, an upscale shopping mall (link) — and as far as I can tell these spelling choices are always respected.

3 Responses to “Centres”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Many cities and towns in the Boston area (including Boston itself) have a Centre Street. The central neighborhood of Newton is named Newton Centre, Not sure whether this is historical faithfulness or pretension, or a bit of both.

  2. Frank Yellin Says:

    Even more common is The Economist referring to the US Department of Defence. Proper noun?

  3. ezwicky Says:

    Westfield’s arguably comes by its spelling honestly; the company is Australian, which sometimes shows up in odd places. The one in San Jose, for instance, not only has proper family restrooms (common in Australia but not here) but also has otherwise inexplicable kangaroos in the kids’ play area.

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