Labor vs Labour: What’s The Difference?

One of the most difficult languages to learn is English. There are many contradictions to the rules and many complications. People who attempt to learn English as their second or even third language often struggle with grammar because of the many rules English seems to break. There are a lot of words that you have to memorize in order to spell correctly because they don’t have a specific format. However, there are some words that are interchangeable because they mean the exact same thing.

English is the most widely used language in both the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the two regions are separated by the way they spell a lot of the same words. The differences between British English and American English are usually very subtle, but they still exist today to confuse people. You might see a word that you thought you knew spelled differently and think, “wait, have I been spelling that wrong this whole time?” The answer is no, you haven’t but certain people have their own preferred spelling based on where they’re from. 

Let’s take a look at the word labor and its alternative spelling labour.

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Definition of Labor

A good place to start when understanding a word is with its definition. The dictionary defines labor as “expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory” or “the physical process of childbirth, such as dilation of the cervix and contraction of the uterus and passing of placenta.”

The word is often used in both contexts for both physical work and giving birth. 

History and Origin of the Word

Another way to learn more about a word and how it is used is by looking at the history and origin. According to the etymology of the word labor, the Latin labor was first used in the 1300s and it meant “a task or project”. In  14th century Middle English, it went on to mean “exertion of the body, trouble, difficulty, or hard work.” In the 1590s Old French it was used for ‘the physical exertions of childbirth”.

Labor Day was first celebrated in 1882, and the term “labor camp” was used in 1900. 

The word comes from the Latin laborare meaning “to work, endeavor, take pains, or exert oneself.”

Synonyms of Labor

Exploring words with similar definitions is an excellent way to really understand how to properly implement a word into your own vocabulary. That way you can relate the word to others you are already familiar with. Here are some common synonyms for the word labor.

  • Work: an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
  • Exertion: the application of a force, influence, or quality.
  • Delivery: the process of giving birth.
  • Strive: make great efforts to achieve or obtain something.

Examples of the Word in Context

Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore the word being used correctly.  Either reading the word in its proper context or hearing someone else use it in conversation.  Here are some common examples of the word labor:

  • She knew that she was in labor because her contractions were extremely painful.
  • They said this job would require a lot of physical labor and that unskilled manual workers should be able to lift at least 25 pounds.
  • He labored outside all day mowing the grass and cleaning the yard.

Is Labour Different?

You may have seen the word labor spelled like labour. If this looks wrong to you, then you are probably from America. Both words are identical in meaning but are spelled differently in America and in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world. If you are British then the spelling labour probably looks more familiar to you than labor does. 

There is no correct way to spell the word, and it does not matter which one you pick because they are both technically correct. This is true for a lot of words that have become “Americanized.” 

What Is Labor Day?

According to History.com, “Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.”

In the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution, Americans were working 12 hour days, seven days a day just to survive. Labor unions started to form which demanded better work conditions and fair hours and pay. People organized strikes and rallies to protest terrible conditions.   

On September 5th, 1882 over 10,000 people took unpaid time off to march in New York City which was the first celebration of Labor Day.

British vs. American English

There are many words that have a British spelling and an American spelling. Some of these are:

  • Color vs. Colour
  • Flavor vs. Flavour
  • Honor vs. Honour
  • Rumor vs. Rumour

Both versions of all these words are correct, so they can be used interchangeably. 

In Summary

The English language is borrowed so much from other languages that it sometimes makes you scratch your head and wonder how people can learn it. No wonder it is so hard to understand parts of English when the rules are never black and white.  

It can be difficult to keep track of the word labor when it has multiple definitions and multiple spellings. Learning languages can often pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules.

Hopefully, after reading about the definition of the word labor, its origin, and history, as well as some synonyms and examples of the word, you feel more prepared to use the word in your own vocabulary. 

Sources:

  1. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/labor
  2. https://www.etymonline.com/word/labor#etymonline_v_1970
  3. https://www.grammar.com/labour_vs._labor#:~:text=There%20is%20no%20difference%20in,of%20the%20English%2Dspeaking%20world.&text=But%20labor%2C%20along%20with%20many,in%20the%20U.S.%20around%201840.
  4. https://writingexplained.org/labor-vs-labour-difference
  5. https://thewordcounter.com/was-vs-were/
  6. https://thewordcounter.com/is-vs-are/
  7. https://thewordcounter.com/has-vs-have/
  8. https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/labor-day-1