Many words with a -re suffix in French have changed to have an -er suffix in English. “Proper” is a good example. Imported to England in the sense “appropriate,” it was at first spelled in the French way: propre (pronounced PROH-pruh) but by Shakespeare’s day it had been changed to proper to match the English pronunciation.

An interesting example is the French word centre. At first it retained its French spelling in English: but in the 16th century  the dominant spelling became center, reflecting English pronunciation. However, Samuel Johnson preferred the older spelling in his influential dictionary of 1755, and the British have spelled the word centre ever since.

Americans generally prefer the spelling center—there are no “centres” in basketball or football. But in recent years numerous American buildings and building complexes have been dubbed centres, probably because people think the British spelling looks more sophisticated.

Americans generally use the -er spelling in the names of medical centers, but there are occasional exceptions, like the “Evergreen Medical Centre” in Jeffersonville, Indiana and the PawPrints Animal Medical Centre in Rockaway Park, New York.

However, the British spelling is much more popular in the names of performing arts complexes, like the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre in Alabama, the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Chicago, and the Kenworthy Performing Arts Centre in Moscow, Idaho (when I worked with the Kenworthy I argued against the centre spelling, but lost).

Because the British spelling is associated with sophisticated venues, some Americans have decided that although center is the correct spelling for the middle of something, buildings and offices should be centres. Prefer centre if you wish, but don’t criticize the majority who prefer their medical centers and shopping centers.

Artsy people in the US often prefer fawncy spellings: note that most stage shows are performed in theatres, while movies are usually shown in theaters.

While we’re on the subject of fawncy spellings, many American builders have come to prefer Pointe  to good old Point in the names of their projects. See, for instance, Crown Pointe in Renton, Washington; South Pointe Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio; and The Pointe student apartment complex near the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Some places go all out in pretentious spellings: consider Mount Pleasant Towne Centre in South Carolina and the Centre Pointe Shoppes, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Despite the influx of centres in America I do believe—despite Yeats—that the center will hold.

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