In the UK we use the spelling programme, whereas in the US they use program. Which is better?
It’s not this straight-forward. The spelling program is used in the UK in the computer sense. Furthermore, program in all senses is becoming more prevalent in Australia, so much so that programme is now marginal and not favoured by the media or official sources. Canada only uses program and New Zealand more-or-less follows British usage: program for computing, programme for everything else.
So proud British and Commonwealth citizens should stand up and fight for our programme? Not quite.
Firstly, nationalist pride has nothing to do with how good the spelling is.
Secondly, programme isn’t that British in any case.
The Greek word γραμμα ‘gramma’ is regularly borrowed into English as gram: anagram, chronogram, cryptogram, diagram, epigram, hexagram, ideogram, kilogram, logogram, monogram, pentagram, telegram. Therefore, programme is irregular and goes against all analogy.
The word was originally borrowed into English, in the UK, as program. It largely kept that spelling in Scotland, even after senses of the word got borrowed from the French form of the word programme. Even in England, the spelling program was dominant up till the early nineteenth century; it wasn’t fully ousted till the late nineteenth century. Such English luminaries as Henry Sweet can be seen using it as late as 1892:
A less ambitious program would further allow of greater thoroughness within its narrower limits.
H. Sweet New Eng. Gram. Pref. 9
Therefore, program is the original and “true” British spelling.
And on phonemic grounds, –am is infinitely more justifiable than –amme. Compare: clam, cram, dram, flim-flam, glam, ham, jam, lam, mam, Pam, pram, sam, slam, tram, and of course, gram.
In conclusion, the case for program is overwhelming, the case against boils down to two things: the first, a sound but hardly convincing argument; the second, a non-argument. First, is there any other way to pronounce the spelling “programme”? Probably not. So why bother respelling it? It would seem a lot of effort for little-to-no gain (However, there is a case that the French -mme ending might imply a syllable final stress). Second, a factually inaccurately-grounded show of support in favour of the UK and British-associated practices is not a sound basis for spelling.
For what it is worth, I am a very homeland-loving kind of fellow, yet no matter how it smarts my British pride, program really is the only justifiable spelling. Therefore, I adopt it.
“programme | program, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2016. Web. 20 December 2016.
© 2016-2020 Bryan A. J. Parry