Manoeuvre or Maneuver: Which Is Right?

MANOEUVRE is one of those words that makes me stupidly cross-eyed, even dyslexic. You have not two, but three vowels sitting side by side: o, e, and u.

OK, I can handle the ‘o’ and ‘e’ combination just fine in Oedipus, but as far as oestrogen and oesophagus go, toss out the ‘o’ please, and give me estrogen and esophagus. Oh, and drop the ‘o’ too in diarrhoea. Who needs to struggle with the extra letter when you’re already in the throes of a nasty diarrhea?

But go ahead, anyway, and add a third vowel ‘u’ to our ‘oe’ in manoeuvre. My eyes will go bananas. They can’t handle the crowd and would itch to toss out the ‘o’, so that all I see is the ‘eand ‘u’ together—yes, ‘eu’ as in eulogy and Teutonic. Granted, the ‘eu’ diphthong in both these words don’t replicate the ‘eu’ sound in maneuver; but it looks agreeable and it feels pronounceable, unlike ‘oeu’, which gets us into tricky French terrain.

Alas, the British are going to tell you it’s wrong, you’ve got to spell it their way: manoeuvre. Now, mind you, that’s ‘re’ in the last syllable, not ‘er’.

But the Americans would counter: Why use nine letters when eight would do? Besides, doesn’t maneuver look much better? Especially with the ‘er’.

Now you understand why I write in American English? It looks smarter and sharper, and it’s so much easier to deal with in terms of spelling and maneuverability, as opposed to British-styled manoeuvrability. 

No wonder the folks at the Red Cross, whose Standard First Aid course I took last week, would go nuts over their Heimlich Manoeuvre, spelling it right only once in their learning guide, and wrong four times: Heimlich Manouvre.

For us students in Singapore who have to abide by British English, here’s a tip to get our manoeuvre right every single time.

Think of the word, oeuvre, French for “work”—the complete oeuvre of Mozart, the early oeuvre of Shakespeare.

Think o, e, and u, and then spell it out loud: O-E-U. Or say, Oh, euw! That should be a better mnemonic than harping on oranges, elephants, and umbrellas.

Thank goodness, the teachers don’t have a hold on me anymore, because I’m sticking with my American spelling: no more programme, and give me curb, not kerb. Whatever you choose when you’re done with school and college, be faithful to one, don’t flirt with both.

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Language Bites” are reflections on the joys and angst of language usage, from sentence structure to syntax, voice and vocabulary, some why’s and how’s, plus do’s and don’t’s.


2 thoughts on “Manoeuvre or Maneuver: Which Is Right?

  1. Lucky you, English-speaking people who can chose between the American and English spelling!! French-speaking people have no choice but to have it right when they learn oeuvre, yes, but also oeuf for egg, gateau for cake, écureuil for squirrel. And don’t believe there is a rule as to how the sound “o” needs to be written with an o (odeur), ot (tôt), au (austère) or eau (eau!)… Only tortured minds could invent all this!


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