East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

British vs American


I have a problem.
OK, I’ve got a lot of those, but one in particular came up in conversation this afternoon, and the problem is, Brits and Yanks don’t speak (and more importantly, don’t write) the same language.
And because these two different languages as English, I mix them up, and (some of) my readers cringe, and it’s very very embarrassing and all that.

I studied English in school, and none of my teachers, that I can remember, ever made any difference. Yes, they did tell us that in America they call “cabs” what in Britain call “taxis”, and then lift/elevator, vacation/holidays and what else.
That was easy, and stuck.

And thank goodness, the Webster-originated problems with color/colour, labor/labour etc. Can be taken care of by a good spellchecker.

But the rest?
Like, different uses of “shall” and and “should”?
The thing about collective nouns… people IS or people ARE?
No, that was never mentioned in school.

I started reading in English when I was fifteen or sixteen, and I started listening to rock’n’roll before that, and I never made a difference, acquiring a mixed dictionary and syntax by osmosis. I never much cared if the writers I was reading were British or American, I did not check, and I did not keep an eye out for differences.

The end result?
Nothing, really, or almost nothing.
Most readers and editors are fine with what I write, and if the incongruities grate, they are generous enough to ignore them.
Then once in a while, someone mails or private-messages me to let me know that, you know, that story of yours was fine but, what the heck, man, it’s full of errors!
Clean your act up!

That’s scary, especially since I rush to check my text and, of course, I can’t find anything wrong.

And this is going to be a problem – because if I want to up my game, I need to be able to deliver stories that are pitch-perfect. It’s not much a matter of vocabulary or spelling, but verbal constructs are going to be a challenge.

I will have to take the Fowler’s out again, and read it cover to cover once a week for a while, or something.

On the other hand, I’ve seen books with glaring factual errors (like, saying that British cops routinely carry guns) reviewed with five stars on Amazon, so it takes all sorts.
But I’ll have to find a way to put some order in my syntax, spelling and lexicon.
Any suggestion is really welcome.
Also, you guys there (glares at USA and UK) should start speaking the same language.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

4 thoughts on “British vs American

  1. I wish I could find a good book about that


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