Today’s post on the IWSG Anthology blog carries some of my fellow writers’ thoughts on their experiences with language. Be enthralled at:
If he had been given love when they raised him, the poor guy wouldn’t have turned to crime – even if I created him that way, a worthy antagonist.
Oh scrub that.
Or were they lifting a bonnet? Or was the bonnet in someone’s way?
A hat, you might ask, wondering why the fleeing hood hit the bonnet. Perhaps it was Easter. Who really knows? For that is the confusion that a British writer causes an American editor. Well I did just that and discovered that our common language can be so confusing.
It seems that we are ‘Two nations separated by a common language,’ as someone famous once said. Although at “QUOTE … UNQUOTE” it appears that it might have been both Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, rather than Winston Churchill. “In The Canterville Ghost (1887), Wilde wrote: ‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’. However, the 1951 Treasury of Humorous Quotations (Esar & Bentley) quotes Shaw as saying: ‘England and America are two countries separated by the same language’, but without giving a source. The quote had earlier been attributed to Shaw in Reader’s Digest (November 1942).”
Okay, I digress. Does it really matter who said it when there is some truth in the quote? No… but I get to show how clever I am by misquoting someone famous.
Back to the fleeing hood. An American reader, that my publisher provided to check ‘Spiral of Hooves’ for readability, felt that the use of the word “bonnet” might be confusing as people wear bonnets. An American would say “hood” in the intended context. But a British reader would misunderstand “hood” as that for us would also be a piece of headwear. In this case it was easily resolved by making the context clear:
“Their vehicle hit him full on, the impetus throwing his body over the roof, and onto the ground, where he squirmed clutching his stomach.”
All mention of a “bonnet” or “hood” removed. But there were harder points of misunderstanding to resolve than this, although I think that a resolution was found eventually.
However, it’s hard ensuring that British characters ring true to both American and British readers alike without resorting to stereotypical language. I hope that my English heroine, Carly Tanner still sounds like many of the riders that I used to interview when I was a journalist. The next step will be ensuring that her distinctive way of talking remains consistent in the sequel ‘Tortuous Terrain’.
Of course both novels have their non-British characters and that has presented another challenge, especially when their first language is not English. I have refrained from over-using foreign words, notably my protagonist’s patois, but the odd foreign curse has been useful where the context calls for expletives.
Technical jargon has also been a problem in the sense that a non-horsey reader might have found some of the expressions confusing. But again I have been careful to retain some of the flavour of the world in which the novel is set, while making the jargon clearer from the context. The proof will be in the readers. I fear that I will face a greater problem with my mysteries set against the gaming world.
But back to the Americans and not just my publishers or many of my intended readers. The characters. In ‘Spiral of Hooves’ there is a Chicana, who has tested my resources in many ways as her dialogue spans two languages, as does that of the French-Canadians. I have relied on my American wife and my editors to ensure that these characters’ language is realistic and they say “truck”, “fender” and “dumpster” as well as “hood”.
But they manage to drive on the left, except when they are in France.
In ‘Tortuous Terrain’ the characters will have to drive on the right and the majority language will be American. Hopefully my British readers will make the journey with me across the Pond, and the hood will behave having been correctly raised.