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American and British English: some differences

July 20, 2015

I’ve just been sent the proofs for the American edition of my children’s novel The Big Wish. I wasn’t surprised that changes had been made to Americanise the text; but I was surprised at how many there were. No page was without at least one change and some pages were full of them.

Some changes were to be expected. Obviously mum becomes mom, pavement becomes sidewalk, chips become fries, and forwards, backwards and towards all lose their final s, while the past tense of fit becomes fit instead of the clunky British fitted. I would have made those changes myself if asked to edit for an American readership. But other changes took me by surprise. The expression a bit is consistently altered to a little – so I felt a bit silly becomes I felt a little silly. Don’t Americans ever say a bit? Also, tread on becomes step on. I had no idea that Americans don’t use tread. And in America, it seems, you can’t get the sack ; you can only get fired. The word posh isn’t used by Americans either, being replaced in one instance by serious and in another by fancy. The expression brass monkeys weather has no US equivalent and so was dropped. It also seems taboo to mention people’s race: characters originally described as Chinese, black or Asian all lose that descriptor.

I was reminded of Oscar Wilde’s quip in “The Canterville Ghost”: “We really have everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language”.

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  1. egyoung permalink

    What is ‘brass monkey’s weather’? The closest saying here is about weather cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey…which would make your American editor a bit nervous for a children’s book.

  2. Sue permalink

    Can’t wait to read a children’s book that has brass monkeys weather in the narrative. Did American pawn shops ever display three brass balls?

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