I Say, G’day, Eh?

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:biscuits

but more like these:Digestive_biscuits

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.

ANZAC biscuits

ANZAC biscuits

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!


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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14 Responses to I Say, G’day, Eh?

  1. Helen Pollard says:

    Fascinating, Tonette! And now I have visions of all the Harry Potter characters in dresses. Rather disturbing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I have to agree. As long as the meaning is understood there’s no need to change the wording. If nothing else, it gives a flavor of the location, and now that international travel is so much more common it helps to prepare us for meeting people from places where these terms are used. The jumper/sweater thing confused me when I first started reading romances and stumbled on Betty Neels’ books. The first time a hero put one on I wasn’t sure I liked him any more! It also took me a while to discover that biscuits were what we call cookies – I just couldn’t understand why the younger characters in a book were so excited about biscuits!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know, right? I briefly thought maybe ‘biscuits’ were like scones, which might make more sense.Go figure. Funny about Betty Neels’ hero! I think international TV and the fact that most people in most places are a bit more sophisticated now, (plus easy to find definitions), make it better. I remember seeing an old “Have Gun, Will Travel” about 20 years ago, ( of course, it was over 20 years old then). In the credits, one of the characters was listed as “Heysoose”; the character was a Mexican fellow named “Jesus”, but I imagine the network didn’t want a lot of calls asking where Christ was.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. jeff7salter says:

    great column today. Very informative.
    Personally I really enjoy seeing the culture — whether British / Canadian / Australian /etc — depicted in its own natural way. It’s cool to learn new ways of expressing things. For one thing, each of those cultures have their own way of cursing. “Bugger off” is not something you’d hear much in the U.S. Neither is “sod” or “bloody”.
    One of my favorite expressions is the way some of those other cultures refer to what we think of as “friends” or “buddies”. Elsewhere they might be “mates” or “lads”.
    Of course, when I refer to these cultures, I mean only the ones which also are based on English for their language. Because if it was German or French (or whatever), not only would every word be translated, but they’d probably also translate the cultural references.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the compliment,Jeff.I value your opinion.
      Of the cursings you mentioned, two are really rude, although most Americans would never know how badly they were swearing!
      You are right, also, about the necessity for not only literal translations,but cultural ones as well. I can often pick up enough in a subtitled Italian movie to hit Joe in the ribs and tell him what they really said.I know much is often lost in translations which is why if you pick up older copies of some English or Russian writings which were otherwise translated into English, there are passages or lines in French, often with no translation; they just assumed the audience knew a smattering of French…which I really don’t.It is frustrating.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeanne Theunissen says:

    One thing, Tonette; we would never say ‘When I was at THE uni…’ It’s just ‘When I was at uni’ same as ‘When I was in hospital’.

    A singlet isn’t just for babies, either. It’s any type of sleeveless top or undershirt. Like the typical garb for a Christmas BBQ would be a singlet, shorts and thongs.

    Arnott’s is a major biscuit company here and they do produce Anzac biscuits, and so does a company called Unibic. Supermarket and independent bakeries make them as well, so they are readily available any time of year.

    If you’d like to try them, here are a couple of recipes:

    Anzac biscuit recipes
    The popular Anzac biscuit is a traditional, eggless sweet biscuit. Early recipes did not include coconut.

    The following recipe (without coconut) was published in The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Queensland) on Saturday, 14th August 1926.


    2 cups rolled oats
    1/2 cup sugar
    1 cup plain flour
    1/2 cup melted butter
    1 tbls golden syrup
    2 tbls boiling water
    1 tsp bicarbonate soda (add a little more water if mixture is too dry)

    Combine dry ingredients.
    Mix golden syrup, boiling water and bicarbonate of soda until they froth. Add melted butter.
    Combine butter mixture and dry ingredients.
    Drop teaspoons of mixture onto floured tray, allowing room for spreading.
    Bake in a slow oven.

    The Country Women’s Association of New South Wales Calendar of Cake and Afternoon Tea Delicacies: a recipe for each day of the year (Sydney: The Association, 1933) included two recipes for Anzac biscuits, one without coconut and the following version which included coconut.

    Anzac biscuits, No 2


    1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
    1 tablespoon syrup
    3/4 cup flour
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)

    Melt butter.
    Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter.
    Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid.
    Place small balls onto buttered tray and bake in moderate oven.
    Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft till cold.


  5. Thanks, Jeanne.I dropped that one, too. I meant to add about people saying “In hospital” and why does it sound strange to Americans when they say,”In bed”? Yes, I saw that others had on ‘singlets”; I just wanted to give an idea.
    I read that one of the companies/markets had quit making them; I was misinformed, I guess.

    How kind of you to post recipes! Thanks.


  6. Good post, Tonette! It made me hungry for biscuits (REAL), but my boyfriend and I have just begun a low-carb diet and that means no bread. 😦 sob, sob

    Liked by 1 person

    • Boy,I understand that one,Janette! I have had to be on low-carb and it’s a killer! Glad you have someone to support you in it; all my people can scarf them down.
      Thanks for coming back to visit.It’s nice to hear from you.


  7. Joselyn says:

    Fascinating post. I’ve read a couple books where I couldn’t figure out for sure what something was, but I had a good general idea. I first ran across the jumper/sweater one in Bridget Jones’ Diary. I think I eventually figured it out from the context (or the movie, I don’t remember.)

    I agree with Patricia that it definitely helps with getting the flavor of the culture and the location.


    • Yes, Joselyn, I definitely enjoy the ‘accents’ one ‘hears’ while reading books! Often, it just takes a moment of thought to figure it out,(unless it’s an obscure reference or some saying that has an entirely different meaning to another culture….THEN we have to go to some reference source!)


      • jeanne71957 says:

        Aussie English has some words that are not found in either British or Canadian English, too. We tend to shorten just about everything, especially professions:

        Tradie = Tradesman
        Chippy = Carpenter
        Sparky = Electrician
        Garbo = Rubbish Collector
        Postie = Mail Carrier (and they ride motorbikes or bicycles here rather than drive around in trucks)

        My husband sent me this site while I was still in Texas so I could understand what he was talking about sometimes.



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