On this month’s ‘free’ week, I thought I would discuss the differences and questions of writing in American English and the British/Australian/Canadian versions.
There can be big differences.
Many years ago, before information was at everyone’s fingertips on the Internet, a woman I knew said that she had been reading a lot of Agatha Christie’s works and asked if I knew what some of the English phrases meant. She was particularly thrown-off by “a mare’s nest”. [It means something that someone would find a surprise, only to find that it is not real.] “Hobson’s choice” is no choice at all. A Mr. Hobson owned a livery stable in Cambridge, England. No amount of pleading, cajoling or offers of extra payment made Mr. Hobson change his mind; a person had to take the next horse in rotation, or no horse at all. Then there was “Down to me”, where we in America would say “Up to me”. I said, “Add a few more words and it makes sense: “It all comes down to me”. The woman asked that if I ever found a dictionary with that sort of definition, to please let her know.
Some time later, after we had lost touch, I did find “The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable”, a delightful, albeit thick, book with many, many historical and literary allusions. If you are a literary person, a big reader and/or a word-freak like I am, you’d love this book!
Quite recently an acquaintance on Facebook, a Canadian writer, asked if we thought that she should “Americanize” her works. She had been told that she would appeal more to her U.S. readers if she played–down the Canadian phraseology and British spellings,(i.e.: “colour/color”). It became quite a discussion.
One friend of a friend in England complained that they needlessly changed many lines in the Harry Potter books in the American versions, and, for the most part, she was correct. I’ve seen some of the comparisons and frankly, the changes were silly. But she happened to mention that she hated that they changed “ jumper” in the British version to “sweater” in the American. I had to explain to her that actually, that was one of the changes that needed to be made, since a “jumper” in America has a whole different meaning; it is a sleeveless dress under which a blouse is worn .
Unless it is something like above, (where the American kids would be confused trying to picture the Weasley Brothers and Harry wearing sleeveless dresses that Molly knitted), I see no reason why a book should be ‘watered-down’ for an audience and lose its authentic tone.
Along with others, I have been reading the works of Liane Moriarty. (I did a review of one of her books here a couple of months ago.) She and her editors have kept all of the Australian flavor in her writing, yet there is little that isn’t immediately understood. Most words or phrases that are unfamiliar to Americans can be figured out simply by thinking of synonyms or like ideas.
[I may be paraphrasing some of the lines in which the words are contained.]
“When I was at the uni”: obviously the university: in America we’d say, “When I was in college”, but it’s easy enough to figure out, as are
“The temperature drops, so rug-up and don’t forget the littlies” : this could have been be Americanized to “ make sure you dress warmly and bundle up the kids”, but I’m glad they didn’t.
“The baby was in a diaper and singlet”: this took me a second, but I realized that is what we call a ‘onesie’.
“It was at his buck’s party”: easy to see it’s the same as a “stag party”, (which I found rather funny).
“She has a netball game”: I was torn between deciding if they meant volleyball or basketball, but in checking it out, I found that it is another rousing game altogether, but it leans toward basketball.
I checked out what “sticky beaks” were. Do you know what this means? Can you guess? I’ll let you know at the end of this post.
And although I realized what they were talking about baking, out of pure Foodie curiosity, I looked up was to see what exactly an “Anzac biscuit” was. I knew that “ANZAC” was the combined New Zealand and Australian armed forces and even if you have never visited England, once you have read enough British literature, or even seen enough ‘Britcoms’,(enough to see Hyacinth frighten Elizabeth over tea), you know that a ‘biscuit’ doesn’t look like this:
Anzac biscuits were baked by the wives, mothers and girlfriends of the troops to ship to them during WWII. They were/are made with rolled oats, sturdy, to withstand shipment. They contain no egg, not only because there was a shortage, but to help prevent them from spoiling. They contain dried coconut, which was plentiful even during the war and it added flavor plus a little more nutrition. They have a special place in the hearts of Australians and are such a part of their culture that the recipe is usually only deviated from slightly. In fact, not only does one have to get special permission to market anything with “Anzac” on the label, only ‘biscuits’ that follow standardized recipes can be called “Anzac biscuits”. They are seldom produced commercially because companies would like to improve upon their texture and add eggs, but that is a no-no.
What is your thought about ‘Americanization” of books?
In this day and age of easy access to reference through the internet,(we even with dictionaries built into Kindles), I find it unnecessary in adult reading material.
Did you figure out what “sticky beaks” are? They are nosy people, people who put their noses [beaks] into other people’s business.
That should have been easy to figure out, but I dropped that one!