Painters! on you I call! Sculptors! Architects! Suffer not the fashionable Fools to depress your powers by the prices they pretend to give for contemptible works or the expensive advertizing boasts that they make of such works.

Thus cries William Blake in his preface to Milton. His fine righteousness aside, what seems notable here is the thing that seems to mark it as slightly outdated English. More than the stray capital letter that we wouldn’t use these days, the “z” in “advertizing” jumped out at me as looking quite odd.

A while ago I decided to standardize (see!) on using “z” instead of “s” in such verbs. As far as I can tell, both are acceptable; the “z = American” / “s = British” idea seems largely to be a myth. So—a few petty lexicographical arguments that I’m probably not aware of notwithstanding—it seems to be a matter of aesthetic choice. For me, at the time I standardized, I felt the “z” had a resonance I preferred: stronger, with more bite in the shape of the letter, not to mention a closer match to the feel of the noise.

Some time later, in my years-of-not-writing-much, I reverted to the “s”. Maybe that reflected my written word sinking a little more into the background, the softer shape belying and dampening the sound, perhaps.

Getting back into writing more has, with a considered but abrupt aesthetic u-turn, found me preferring that jaggedy “z” again.

Apart from “advertising”. The wonders of digitization means I can check, roughly. A search on this site for “advertising” gives 16 hits. “Advertizing” gives none (and a helpful hint directing you to the other spelling). Now, I’m not saying I’ve managed to be completely consistent in using “z” on everything else, but this word seems to be an odd exception. My Concise Oxford Dictionary gives “advertising” as the primary spelling, whereas a random sample of other verbs (“organize”, “categorize”, “theorize”) give the “z” first, and add “(also -ise)”.

Using Google again, we find that global searches for “advertising” and “advertizing” give 529,000,000 and 1,430,000 hits respectively. Something like “organise” and “organize” gives us 42,500,000 and 87,200,000 hits. Hardly scientific, but still, very odd.

And here’s Blake using the “z”. It’s strange; it seems to me this spelling subtly emphasizes the sleazy, glitzy, grimily duplicitous nature of advertizing. It doesn’t do anything similar in any other word I can think of.

Maybe that’s just my mind, or the context of Blake. But from now on, I’m going to follow Blake, consciously bringing advertizing into the “z” fold, and let its sleaze shine through!

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