Across the pond

Hello dear readers of Kev’s blog, and The Editor’s Column, after an untimely absence on my part.

In a nutshell, this has been due to receiving a letter from our Spanish electricity company that only took three weeks to arrive, and threatened to cut us off. This was because we hadn’t been at home when they turned up, without warning, to change the meter. Sadly, neither of us is psychic so guessing when Endesa may pay a visit is not on our list of top skills. So, this month we have been exiled in Spain hoping they may pull their idle fingers out. No result as yet. More on my own blog this weekend.

But onto today’s topic. Following on from my previous post, I want to pick up on more of the linguistic differences between English across the pond.

The pond – the North Atlantic Ocean

One of the frequent complaints I come across is from British authors who have been criticised by American reviewers for their spelling or their strange use of words. But I don’t hear the reverse. Is this because Brits know Americanese is different but Americans expect all the world to be written in one form of English?

For me, the diversity of the English language is enriching. I don’t want to see everything morph into one blur.

A thong in Australia is not the same as elsewhere.

Then, we have multiple names for a pick-up in the English-speaking world. Or truck. Or bakkie. Or ute.

But increasingly I see discussions on forums about whether or not to write in American English to hopefully attract more sales, because America dominates ebook sales. It’s very much a hot topic.

And I see British authors using more and more American words or styles.

For example:

  • Ass instead of arse
  • He looked out the window, rather than he looked out of the window, or walked out the door instead of walked out of the door
  • Movies not films
  • You guys
  • Discombobulated
  • Cupcakes (fairy cakes when I was a kid, because they were small – like fairies, prettier name too, bring back fairy cakes!)
  • Making out (I can never work out where that is on the scale between snogging and sexual intercourse)

But, I find it somewhat confusing to read a book set in London, with British characters speaking American. I wouldn’t expect an American author to have an American in Louisiana speaking English! The author told me she threw in the Americanisms because that’s where she expects to sell her books, yet reading it, the writing style and grammar were basically British. What a hotch potch. Surely, if someone is tailoring their book for the American market, they should also be following the American style guide? (Usually Chicago for fiction.)

It’s not just Brits. Apparently Australian authors do it too. Again, with an eye on ebook sales. The idea of Australians speaking American strikes me as quite funny, but it is negating a very rich culture. Believe me mate, I’ve been there. Fair dinkum.

Most of us know (or maybe not?) the different words across the pond like:

    rubbish/trash or garbage

In fact, I was always perplexed about the obsession of American women with their purses. Nothing wrong with looking after the money, but I did wonder why they just didn’t stick their purse in a pocket … or … a handbag.

But some of the more difficult words that sound the same are not easy to get right, again, as language travels across the pond and infiltrates.

Here are a few more examples:

British first, American second

  • Axe, ax
  • Grandad, granddad
  • Jewellery, jewelry
  • Carat, karat
  • Moustache, mustache
  • Pyjamas, pajamas
  • Pedlar, peddler
  • Plough, plow

I saw a non-American get soundly berated on a forum for using pyjamas not pajamas. The whole premise of the original poster’s comment was belittled on the grounds he was using ‘incorrect’ spelling.

Food is a great one:

    Chilli, chili
    Gelatine, gelatin
    Pitta bread, pita bread
    Tartare sauce, tartar sauce

Still on food, my British style guide tells me we have scrambled egg and mashed potato, while Americans (sensibly) refer to them in the plural. One scrambled egg wouldn’t go very far. Actually, I think in our home we use both in speech – although we normally refer to scrambledies.

Let’s end with a drink. In the UK Scottish whisky is spelled without the ‘e’. Only Irish whiskey is referred to as whiskey. In America all whiskies are called whiskey as standard with whisky as an acceptable variant.

Cheers. Slàinte mhath.

And if you do read books with spelling, words or grammar you aren’t used to, remember the richness and variation of the English language and enjoy it before reaching for a red pen. These examples only touch the surface of the many detailed differences between British, American English and all other English-speaking countries. I hope those differences don’t disappear in the scurry for authors wanting to tap the American market.

Next post, I’ll take a look at the pros and cons of beta readers.


63 thoughts on “Across the pond

  1. A great post and one that clarifies a lot of issues for me! Having written a story with ‘chilli’ in the title I struggled to find the correct spelling. In these cases, spell-check is useless as on many occasions and I resort to the good old-fashioned Oxford English Dictionary! However, at the same time, I’m conscious that many readers on my blog are from America so a mishmash seems to work well with a few colloquialisms for good measure! I look forward to your post about beta readers…particularly what the cons will be. Hope all works out with the electric!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Annika. Chilli was one I struggled with, I couldn’t work out whether it was alternate spelling as both chilli and chili seemed to be used interchangeably. It was only when I was reading my style guide that I realised what the difference was.

      I do use Oxford online quite a lot, plus a hard copy dictionary, plus Merriam if I am working in American.

      The beta reader thing … hmmmmmm. I can think of three cons immediately, no, make that four, but that’s for next month.

      Need to email Endesa again. God they are a pain.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Fantastic post. I have to laugh because as a Canadian writer we again have different spellings. Being part of the British monarchy many words are spelled like British English eg: the ‘ou’ words – colour, neighbour, you get my drift. When I began revisions on my first book I asked my Canadian editor what her opinion was to write my books in which English language. She advised me to write in American English. I admit it was weird at first changing the spelling I’d grown up learning in school and training myself to learn the variations for the purposes of my books. So I tried to keep with the American spelling into my blog posts and when commenting. When I’m commenting on a friend’s blog who happens to be a Brit I stop myself with certain words wondering if I should stick to my newly trained Americanese or use the English I was raised on and wonder if my British friends who know I’m Canadian ever wonder why I write in American. LOL 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I guess you can totally empathise then. And while I was comparing British v American, I very much had in mind Aussies, Canadians, Indians, Kiwis and South Africans, and that’s just for starters. I discussed, briefly, Caribbean English with Cynthia (Canadian) below.

      While I’d heard the stories of Brit authors being told they couldn’t spell, I was amazed at the Aussie saying he was writing in American purely for sales. The irony is, that after America, which does dominate English-speaking ebook sales, Britain comes next anyway. Canada, Aus and NZ are well behind.

      Presumably if you write in American, you also follow Chicago for style? Which, I have to say, is pretty good, in so much as it is detailed and doesn’t leave a colon unturned. I don’t think American spelling is so difficult, it’s the idioms and idiosyncracies and slang that all languages have. For example, many Americans say ‘I could care less’ meaning ‘I couldn’t care less’. But apparently the former is frowned upon by purists anyway exactly because of its inaccuracy. Yet, it’s in common usage.

      I won’t be writing in American in a hurry though. After a zillion years of writing and publishing in English it would be too time consuming to change. Plus, the sort of people who read my writing are sufficiently cranky not to give two hoots, qv Disperser’s comments about not bothering about spelling.

      The big question is, do you think crossing the linguistic border has improved sales? A hypothetical question I suppose without a comparator!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. HI, thanks for sharing. I just want to say that I agree with you on things like ‘couldn’t care less’. I think many little sayings are chopped up into slang or bad grammar over time but regardless of what type of English we write in, grammar should be correct. And yes, Chicago style manual. In response to your last question, I can’t really say because it’s not like I switched my writing style in between books, I made the decision while editing my first book. I’ve never had any reviewers leave comments about ‘spelling’ errors which is common for some to complain about with British English, which of course is nonsense and misunderstood by a reader who doesn’t take into account if the author is British. So I suppose it’s working for me. I’ll admit though it was difficult transitioning from English Canadian to English American, lol.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think slang is okay in context. Just that, I could care less, makes no sense to me, as the video posted by Disperser eloquently says.

          Brits are pretty broad-minded (honestly) so we’re unlikely to moan about American spelling. I think it would be strange to write outside my first language – except I’ve just fired off two emails in Spanish 😀

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Side note: if a book is sold overseas (in either direction) isn’t it the publishing house that is responsible for editing the book for the appropriate language?

    Or is this strictly for those who self-publish?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It used to be that big/trad publishing houses would certainly Americanise English books, not sure about the reverse way round. Or even whether it still goes on due to decreased publishing budgets.

      I doubt any/many self-publishers do two versions. Given that many people don’t break even on one version, two would be a nightmare.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I have my opinions as both a reader and writer; in both cases, I see more of a risk of alienating readers by trying to adapt the language/voice to the imagined audience — and failing — than alienating readers because one writes in one’s own language/voice.

      That also holds for regional dialects and idioms. For that matter, within the US you have different names for the same thing (pop, cola, soda, soda pop) so one need not “travel” outside a country to run into problems with assigning wrong idioms to a given character.

      Translation into a different language is another matter and outside the scope of most writers, but that brings up a whole different issue. For instance, I read “Vacanze Matte” (Richard Powell’s “Pioneer, Go Home”) and it was hilarious . . . in Italian. The translation did not have the same voice (cadence, flow, style, whatever) as the original and I did not find the book as funny in its original English (a number of reasons for it, but language was a big part of it).

      Side note: that brings up another interesting point; is the author still the author when someone basically rewrites their book? In the above example, other than sharing the plot, those are two different books.

      Getting back on point, as a reader, I’m likely to accept whatever is written as peculiar to the character/story, especially if I like the character/story. For instance, there is no set standard for elvish or orc languages or idioms, yet we manage to read their stories.

      Consistency — for me — is more important than accuracy or realism or whatever people shoot for when incorporating dialects and idioms or whatnot.

      So, a long-winded way (I know of no other way) of agreeing with what I think is your point. Write in your own language/voice and focus more on plot/characters than other factors.

      . . . of course, I could be saying that because I’m a lazy writer . . . or, I suppose I could have missed your point because of your peculiar flair with words. Who knows?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Well, whatever it is on a cracker. I’ll be stuffed if I can find anything to disagree with there 😦

        Someone else recently mentioned the soft drink thing in America. It’s pop, or was in my youth over here. Soda usually refers to soda water, which sadly, I have learned, has a side effect. Spain is neat, they are all refrescos, presumably because they are refreshing.

        I get the original language thing too. Some years ago, El Pais (Spanish national newspaper), offered classics for a €1 each with each edition, so I bought a few. So I’m still reading one book in Spanish, Les Liaisons Dangereuses in French as well as loads in English. I did manage some of the Aenead in Latin years ago under compulsion at school.

        I think we should mark this as a high point in our internet exchange that we are struggling to disagree. Best to leave. For now 😉

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Does this mean I don’t have to worry about mixing my English with Americanese anymore? 😉😉 Personally, I’m moving more and more to the English funnily enough!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha. My view is mixing is okay if the circumstances warrant it. Eg, Miedo 3. But changing a few spellings in the hope of more sales seems a bit desperate to me. Deborah below made an interesting comment. Maybe you should add some Yorkshire dialect to yours …?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would never do it just for the sake of sales. I’m proud to be British, and even more so from Yorkshire. Yes, def some Yorkshire dialect!


  5. Typically, I ignore the differences in written fiction and in personal correspondence (meaning, I take no notice of them). A few of my readers use non-American English and are always glad to remind me their version is the “original.”

    . . . I counter that US-English is the “improved” version if one follows the logic of newer of anything is (usually) better and typically corrects the flaws of previous versions.

    My main beef with British-English is not the spelling of the words or even writing in general. It’s that Brits tend to let their voice die off into a mumble rendering half their sentences are practically unintelligible.

    . . . I don’t know how to duplicate that in writing other than trng to purpsfpy magl . . .

    You know what I mean?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was having an exchange (discussion would be too grand a word) with someone a few years back about fall/autumn. Their POV was that fall was older than autumn, which was taken from the French when Britain had a rare moment of friendship with France. I thought other USian words and expressions were also meant to be older, as you hung onto some quaint things dating from the Pilgrim Papas. Dunno. Not my field of expertise. All I can write about is the here and now.

      How do you mn we mmbl?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As it’s often and painstakingly pointed out to me, the US — and hence its language — is young. I grant you many words have roots that extend well into antiquity, but it’s difficult arguing that adapting an “old” word into modern usage makes the language old.

        As for your question, the answer is “carefully and with great deliberation.”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. As I say, not one I’m up for arguing about, I’m merely open to persuasion and information on the whole old/new thing. There are some interesting discussions floating around, but I haven’t got time to follow them.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. It’s said that the everyday language we used in the Caribbean was closer to the language that Shakespeare would have spoken. Remarkable how a language can evolve in some ways, but in a former colony, some bits are retained for much longer. It’s similar re: France and Quebec. In Quebec, you can sometimes hear very old expressions that France no longer uses.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think it’s important to remember that the world just doesn’t speak British or US English, and that no one form is right or wrong, merely indicative of geographical location, pretty much like dialects. Where I come from in the UK, we have a strong local dialect, we speak Tyke. But it varies across the county. When I was a kid, I remember on holidays that the locals would count in funny numbers which were the ones shepherds used for counting their flocks.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Here you go,

              Although my memories are of yan, tiverta, cleeata (phonetic spelling). But you can see the similarity, yan, and tiverta/tethera. The areas mentioned in wiki are north of where we used to stay and quite different, so the local one in Kilham may have had its own variant. It was one of those cranky villages. Beautiful church.

              PS click on square box if piccy no show. Grade 1 listed building.

              Liked by 3 people

                1. I think you needed to live/spend time in the countryside there to be aware of it. I spent every summer there so it sunk in. Vaguely. My parents would go to the local pub and drink with the shepherds. No idea what happens now 😦 But it’s a nice piece of linguistic heritage.

                  Liked by 2 people

      1. I have no idea who they are. The only thing I can think of is that character consistency is important. So, regardless of where a story takes place, American characters would tend toward American words, and English characters would tend toward English words. I recently helped an English writer tweak a short story that takes place in the US to “Americanize” the language since the characters were all American.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I agree about character consistency. But when I read one book about a single American in London and everyone British was speaking American it was totally weird.

          Sometimes, I don’t think we realise how difficult it is to leap out of our home environment and try to put on different clothes. I think location is important. If it’s set in America, use American. Set in Britain, use English. The exceptions are when you have the main character(s) flitting all over the place, which can justify one language of choice. No easy life for writers.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Really? (Re grey) I thought it was an option in Canada but not in the US. Either way, it’s fairly obvious that gray and grey mean the same. I think grey looks a deeper word, whereas gray looks lighter and more open.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Good luck with your power problem!
    I stick firmly with English spelling (being British), and I’ve had no complaints from my American readers, not even a comment about it in the reviews, though I’ve heard many people have had issues. I think particularly with my Scottish set novels, Americans love the authenticity. Throw in a few Gaelic words and they like it even more!
    And I just couldn’t bring myself to refer to trousers as ‘pants’…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks. No joy as yet 😦

      I suspect you are right, setting your books in Scotland automatically gives you a head start because they speak funny there. I take it you don’t use clichés like Och aye the noo! I think a few words in any language of the country of setting adds value – depending on how it’s done.

      Trousers as pants is bad, but knickers as panties has my writhing and squirming. Sounds like the sort of word you would use with a three- or four-year-old girl.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Spanish are not know for their speed of response…
        Lol, no I don’t use that one! I use small differences, like ‘nae bother’, and ‘aye’.
        My epic fantasy is set in an imaginary world with Russian overtones, and I use solidly English spellings, none of which have ever been questioned by American readers. On the other hand, the style of era has enabled me to avoid certain words, as they don’t wear trousers! ‘Leggings’ work well instead 😀

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Tell me … although fast enough to threaten to cut us off.

          I think anywhere in the UK could use local words. Look at Newcastle, whay aye hinny (or however it’s spelt).

          Epic fantasy with Russian overtones? Sounds fascinating. They could wear jeggings too I guess.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Snogging is just any sort of kiss. When I was a teenagers, lads would often say, ‘Give us a snog!’ Now, shagging on the other hand …

      In some of the books I have read, such a big deal is made about ‘making out’. Maybe it depends on the author’s personal values and morals. No one I knew ever asked about whether anyone had a good kissing session. It was either, ‘How far did you go?’ or ‘Did you …?’

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for listing so many words, which have crisscrossed into each other’s English…sometimes it is quite confusing for those whose mother tongue is not English. I studied British Literature and was unfamiliar with many American expressions till I came here. When I started reading American literature, my daughter gave me ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ to make a new beginning. Still I feel what difference does it make if we say coriander or cilantro, boot or trunk, highway or freeway? I agree with you, lets appreciate the ‘richness and variation’ of this language. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think it’s confusing for those of us whose first language is English!

      I’m sure I read somewhere that while cilantro refers to fresh coriander in America, the spice is coriander. In Spain we have cilantro (fresh), cilantro entero (seeds), cilantro molido (ground seeds).

      We don’t say highway or freeway, although I suppose old legal documents referred to the ‘public highway’. Our fast roads are motorways, or the occasional dual carriageway (two lanes only).

      But yes, let’s learn from each other rather than asserting any verbal superiority.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Well, but clearly in some cases words do matter. Or why would people complain about ‘wrong’ spelling and grammar and punctuation? Those of us who have travelled and lived elsewhere have a very different perspective I think.

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            1. I think grammatical rules can be swung to some extent. My main interest is in clarity. Does this read well and make sense? So, if it breaks a few rules, that’s no issue. Sloppy punctuation is a separate issue.

              I’ve spent time in India, Australia, NZ, so learned different English. Open minds 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

              1. I believe that a few rules need to be broken as they bring fun into our life…that’s why my preferred genre is Poetry…free of all boundaries…thanks to modern poets 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Agree about breaking rules, much easier with poetry and free verse. I had a spell of writing some but then the poetry muse flew off. C’est la vie. Also, poetry is usually a short, sharp read. Unless you are Wordsworth.

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