Americanization, yeah!

Well, it was bound to happen, and so it has. Those who have taken the time to pore over my written output – especially those from the northern part of the continental landmass conventionally called America – are bound to notice that I bring more than a little Britishness to the page. Obviously that’s because of the way I speak, but I have also made a little effort to reach out across the Atlantic and take a sprinkling of Americanisms to the text where it seems appropriate, especially if the subject in question is in that (your?) part of the world.

The online version of Underminers, and the Lulu (soon to be unavailable, get it while you can!) book is written in that British-sort-of-American-with-a-touch-of-Scots way, which is perfectly fine for most purposes and which I have no intention of changing. On the other hand, when a book is about to be pushed out to the North American public (and I mean public rather than the people who would normally seek out my work), then a certain amount of translation is called for. It was explained to me, very understandingly by my publisher, that the convention for books to be sold in the USA is to be written in American English.

Here is where I plead ignorance. Until my gracious and tolerant copy-editor pointed out the multitude of words in the book that were rarely if not ever used in the USA, then I had no idea. The spelling – mainly involving “z”s (pronounced “zee” rather than “zed”) – was perfectly fine; hell! I write “civilization” instead of the British convention “civilisation”, all the time. The words, though, were interesting. Here’s a sample, to give an insight into the process:

Caravan. In Britain, a caravan is a thing that you attach to a car (automobile) and take on holiday (vacation) with you so you have a home-from-home. I had to change it to “motor home”, even though it wasn’t – “travel trailer” is unknown in Europe, so that wouldn’t have worked.

Paracetamol. In Britain, it’s a generic painkiller that acts on the central nervous system. In the USA it’s called acetaminophen and usually Tylenol. I have never taken acetaminophen knowingly, but the converse applies in the USA, so an explanation is now in a footnote.

Football in Glasgow. In Scotland there are (at the moment not, but that’s very complicated) traditionally two big football (soccer – I could have gone native and said fitba’) teams, Celtic and Rangers, or rather Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers. They are rivals in terms of football, and in terms of different flavours of the same major branch of the same religious belief system – i.e. one is Protestant, one is Catholic. Fights ensue. There is even a new law in place ostensibly to stop fans of one team using religious slurs against the other. This takes time to explain, so I just took the reference out.

Workmate. This is a type of folding workbench produced by the manufacturer Black and Decker that was all the rage in the 1980s in Britain, and which I still have in almost pristine condition from then – they were very well made. I checked, and they are unknown in the USA, so even though I did use a Workmate, to save confusion I took out the whole reference, and just used a saw.

There were lots more, along with all sorts of stylistic changes including a bizarre round-trip. A friend had seen an early extract and pointed out the proliferation of “that” where the word wasn’t really needed in his opinion, such as “the house that Jill built”, which reads more easily as “the house Jill built”. I agreed and spent ages removing every excessive instance. What I didn’t realise is that in the USA, the word “that” is used much more frequently than in Britain, so back a load went! I did re-remove a few, though – you can have too much of anything.

The final edit is complete, and the manuscript is now with the layout people, who will do all sorts of fancy things over the next few weeks. This is the bit where I don’t really get involved much at all – they know how to sell books; I just write the words.

2 Responses to Americanization, yeah!

  1. Martin says:

    Keith, you can call me Mr Pedantic if you like :-) – “Workmate. This is a type of folding workbench produced by the manufacturer B&Q” – don’t you mean a “Black & Decker Workmate” – I have one too circa 1989 and use it extensively.

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