CBC's spelling of grey jay causes some readers to squawk
Stories about Royal Canadian Geographical Society's choice for national bird prompt typo reports
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society's choice of the grey jay, also called the whisky jack, as Canada's new national bird has ruffled some feathers — and the correct spelling of the bird's name has provoked confused and angry comments from CBC readers.
"I thought it was Gray Jay … that's how it's spelled in birders books," one reader wrote.
"Gray jay, not grey," said another.
Then there was this: "Please spell the bird's name correctly with capital letters … Gray Jay is correct."
CBC News has posted several online stories about the society's top pick since it was announced on Nov. 16 — a choice that prompted many people to say they had never heard about the bird. As with all stories posted on CBC News sites, the articles about the society's choice included a link to report typos or errors.
Many readers seemed to think CBC's web writers were as silly as a goose, crazy as a loon or even bird-brained for using "grey" instead of "gray" and "whisky" instead of "whiskey."
They thought our spelling was for the birds.
Our guiding principle is to adopt an exception only if it makes compelling editorial sense.- Blair Shewchuk, journalistic standards editor
But we're as happy as a lark to explain that we don't just wing it.
Grey jay and whisky jack are the conventional spellings, found in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the Oxford Canadian Spellings Dictionary and the Oxford Guide to Canadian English.
"The noun 'grey jay' is as entrenched in Canada as 'grey goose' and 'greyhound' and 'grey wolf,'" Blair Shewchuk, CBC's senior editor of journalistic standards, explained in an email to staff.
"While it's true that the spelling 'gray jay' has started to creep into Canadian English, it's certainly not the standard."
Now, CBC's Language Guide also dictates "whisky jack," not "whiskey."
"Our guiding principle is to adopt an exception only if it makes compelling editorial sense. And, again, I see no reason to diverge in this case," Shewchuk wrote.
While some bird enthusiasts have insisted that the "correct" spelling is "gray," this is probably based on the U.S. spelling of "grey" adopted by groups such as the American Ornithologists' Union, Shewchuk said. But that doesn't make "gray" an official name, he added.
A global body, the International Ornithological Committee (IOC), publishes comprehensive lists of bird names that specifically state "grey" and "gray" are equally acceptable.
In its flexible spelling rules, the IOC points out other parts of bird names may be rendered differently outside the U.S., such as color/colour, mustache/moustache, racket/racquet, somber/sombre, saber/sabre, and sulfur/sulphur.
As for complaints about missing capital letters, virtually all bird names are lower case in our journalism, Shewchuk said. "We distinguish between blue jays in the woods and Blue Jays on the baseball field."
A little birdie suggests we will be posting more stories about the grey jay/whisky jack in the weeks to come.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society plans to lobby the federal government to adopt the grey jay/whisky jack as the nation's official bird to mark Canada's 150th birthday in 2017.
So please don't fly off the handle when you read our spelling of our feathered friend's name.
But do keep those typo reports coming. They are valued and they are read.