Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Wednesday writing - the beauty of the English language – that no-one outside England understands.

I have a small group of close author friends and we occasionally have a discussion/debate about usage of certain words in the England language - which no-one but myself seems to understand.

This came out of a comment from my editor (although English, I work for an American publisher) on my latest edits asking me to change the word ‘scarpered’ (as in ‘to run away quickly) as they stated that it was a term not widely used outside of British English. And it turned out my fellow author friends (European as well as American) had never heard of this either. *sigh* I feel like I am speaking a foreign language sometimes.

Other words some fellow authors haven’t heard of included ‘tutted’ as in 'to make a sound of disapproval', and ‘by dint of’ in other words ‘by means of’.

The other things I have had to consider since starting writing for an American publisher is to change the spelling of words, eg, colour to color, realise to realize, dived to dove. If I try to use 'whilst' they automatically change it to while.

Similarly, the need to change to American idioms, eg, take-away to take-out, lift to elevator, taxi to cab, knickers to panties. I haven’t had any of my characters referring to the bottom-most floor in a building but in England we would call that the ground floor – I believe I’d have to change that to first floor? One non-American author was told that the swear word ‘bloody’ was too English and to change it as her story was set in America.

I objected when they removed the dash in the word co-worker. Without it (coworker) I felt it read like cow worker – so I changed it to colleague! That's what I get for working for an American publisher.

Of course, even within my own country we have our regional words. I am a southern living in the north of the country and get confused when someone says they are having their dinner – when it is the middle of the day. To me that is lunch. Dinner is reserved for the evening meal – which to the northerners is tea!!

And so by dint of the fact that I have now finished, I scarper through the ground floor of my house to the kitchen (as I don’t need to take the lift) to tidy away the remains of the take-away having realised I failed to tidy up yesterday, before anyone (in particular a co-worker) starts tutting. Whilst I am there I put away the washing. (I dived to pick up some knickers, which had fallen to the floor, the colour of which are red). And then had some tea (and I don’t mean the evening meal!). All of this before the bloody taxi arrives to take me to work.



  1. Good post! My view is that if a story about British characters is set in Britian, then you should use British spelling and idioms. Since non-Americans have to cope with American words and phrases, why can't Americans cope with British words and phrases?
    Only if I (as a British writer) was writing about American characters would I change words and phrases to American ones.

  2. A very good post. I recently had a problem with playing gooseberry, as applied to a third person present when two lovers wish to be alone together. Apparently the US idiom is "I'm not going to be a third wheel." It was odd, though, because that was only picked up at the final edits. I'm wondering if different editors except different words and phrases.
    Another one I had with my last book, was I had the hero described as oozing smugness as easy as shit from a shovel. Thought I would have real problems with that, but I didn't. Good job, too, because I couldn't think of another phrase that meant the same.
    I'm getting used to using US spellings and words now. In fact, I rarely use the word lift. When out shopping the other day with a friend of mine, I said let's use the elevator. Her response was "You what?"
    And though I'm English- I live in the arse, or should I say ass? of England i.e. Norfolk, I do refer to lunch as dinner. But tea is tea. We have our own way of talking in Norfolk that nobody else in the UK understands! Thas a rummin'!

  3. lol! Love it!

    If you want to see the other side of the coin, you should read my friend Kate's blog:

  4. Living in America I have been somewhat able to tell what books I read are written by English authors. There are some that I have read a word and thought what the hell does that mean but for the most part I love the writings. I believe if the story is written well it doesn't matter where the author is from or the words they use to describe something. I love reading books written by authors from other countries. When I get into the story I can hear the accents and really get into the book and love the way I see some things described that I would never hear from someone here in America. I think it brings the characters to life more.

    I have actually gone back and read a few of the books I have that were written by English authors to help me in some research. I have characters in one of my WIP's that are in London right now and have used the books I have written to try and find some words that I should use when they converse with the local characters.

  5. Thanks for all your comments. Very interesting to hear your viewpoints. It's my choice to write for an American publisher and I value my editors' comments and advice. I just find the situation amusing since we all speak the same language!