Why does american english change “metre” to “meter” but not “wire” to “wier” or “lyre” to “lyer”?


Why does american english change “metre” to “meter” but not “wire” to “wier” or “lyre” to “lyer”?

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Because in the word “meter/metre”, the ending ‘r’ sound follows a consonant, but in “wire” and “lyre”, it follows a vowel. The presence of a consonant there requires an additional syllable, which American English represents by putting the ‘e’ before the ‘r’.

Another contributing factor is the rule for a silent ‘e’ in American English, which is that vowel-consonant-e (such as ire or yre) at the end of a word makes the ‘e’ silent. The pattern consonant-consonant-e (such as tre) actually means that the ‘e’ should not be silent (again, in American English–obviously, it is silent in British English).

I think it’s specifically the -tre ending that becomes -ter, like “theatre” and “theater.”

“Wire” and “lyre” also have a slightly different sound. Each of those is nominally just one syllable (though they are often said as two, probably be cause the sounds are unfamiliar to the English tongue). “Wiry” is clearly 2 syllables, and “wire” should be one fewer. “Metre” is one syllable in the French pronunciation, but very clearly is 2 syllables in the English. It *sounds* like me-ter.

“Meter” is spelled by Americans this way thanks to the efforts of the Simplified Spelling Board ([https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simplified_Spelling_Board](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simplified_Spelling_Board)). The Board was an organization active at the beginning of the 20th century, and included people like Melvil Dewey (who was such a fan he changed the spelling of his first name) and Mark Twain as members. Some of their proposed changes were not widely adopted: i.e. changing “ough” to “o” in words like “although”, or using “t” instead of “ed” to indicate the past tense. But some were – including changing from “re” to “er” as in “meter”, the elimination of digraphs like “æ” so that “anæmia” became “anemia”, and using “z” instead of “s” in words like “brazen”.

The movement fizzled out around 1920.