The English Question – choosing your flavour / flavor of English

As a child in the UK I grew up grappling with the ungainly language known as English. I will be the first to admit I find English a baffling language. It’s full of contractions, rules that have a list of exceptions as long as your arm, and obscure principles steeped in the mists of time that make no sense at all.

For all its quirks and problems, I still love English, and for better or worse, for a large part of the planet, English is here to stay.

English comes in flavours, and other countries have their own set of slightly different rules that go some way to removing a few of the more extreme pain points. Additionally, we batlle with the concept of colloquialisms, that British people say one thing, but Americans, Australians and other English speakers may say something else.

As an English expatriate, who now lives in Australia, I have become desensitised to this variation in the spelling, and in the colloquialisms. I watch American TV, Australian TV, and British TV. I buy books from Amazon.com so it’s fair to assume that most of these are in American English. In short, I have become immune to the subtle differences in the language such that I don’t even notice them anymore.

When I first made a decision to look at publishing a book, I realised the vital first step was enlisting an editor. I am not a person constrained by boundaries, and it did not cross my mind to look for a local editor, or even necessarily an editor who was from Australia or the UK, I simply looked for an editor I felt I could work with and connect with, and as it happens, my editor is based in America.

One of the first questions she asked me was what ‘English’ do you want to edit in.

Until this point, I had just assumed I would stick with my native language but now I questioned that presumption.

After some discussion I settled on American English, and in short, it’s the biggest market, and even in the other markets, it’s not unfamiliar.

Given my perceived language immunity I assumed this was a simple flick of the dictionary once I finished writing and, ta-dah, all would be good.

This was my first mistake. It’s actually a lot harder to write in your non-native language than it is to read or listen to it, and while you think you understand all the subtleties you really don’t.

With hindsight, it was actually a good move to pick an American editor since I wanted the finished book in American English. My editor picks out all kinds of subtle things that I would never notice, and I think an Australian or UK editor may also not notice, or at least not notice as easily.

Picking your final audience is an important decision when finalising a book. I am happy with my decision, and time will tell if this was ultimately the right choice.

Just for fun I thought I would leave you with a few of the colloquialisms picked up along the way  🙂

English American
Lift Elevator
Bloke Guy
Mad Crazy
Got on Get along
I’ve not had I haven’t had
Messing about Messing around

 

2 thoughts on “The English Question – choosing your flavour / flavor of English

  1. I’m an American, but I’ve written copy for quite a few English clients, and I picked up a few differences. In writing, the difference most people think of is the u in flavour, colour, etc. However, the one that always tripped me up was -ise vs. -ize, such as in customise. I couldn’t remember which words it applied to, and would always come close to using it in American copy, too!

    In terms of colloquialisms, he would say “I was meant to [do something],” where we would say “I was supposed to.” And of course, “mate” is used pretty liberally over there. I tried calling my American friends “mate,” and most of them made fun of me, with good-humored (or humoured) rants about how “THIS IS AMURICA” and “MY ANCESTORS DIDN’T COME HERE FROM RUSSIA SO THAT I COULD BE CALLED MATE.”

    Also, this isn’t exactly a colloquialism, but “You alright?” seems to be a standard greeting over the pond, which doesn’t usually require an answer. When Americans say “You alright?” we’re usually asking a serious question about the other person’s emotional state. I thought he was being really considerate! And adding x’s (kisses) to the end of messages seems to be pretty common. Americans don’t really do that.

    There are a lot of differences in swears / insults, too, but I won’t dirty up your blog with them :P. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but these are the ones that come to mind. But as a tip: if you use MS Word, you can change what type of English it spell-checks, so it won’t correct your ize’s to ise’s.

    Like

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