my English debate
I’ve been struggling with my words over the past few months. More specifically, the spelling of my words. As my manuscript approaches that scary, ever-looming publication date, I’ve had to take a long, hard look at the “brand” of English I use.
I’m a native Australian, and use language based on British (UK) spelling; however, as a peer pointed out to me, my book is being marketed on an American ebook site, and made the argument that American readers would jar a little with reading UK spellings and slang. Admittedly, some of the slang, which was mostly Australian-based, was probably a little vague for most, so I changed some of those terms. How many of you know what a demountable is? Or perhaps the definition of skerrick?
So, for the crunch-time decisions: Do I take out my precious u’s? Cut out my double-l’s? Drop the ‘a’ from anaesthetic? Do I add punctuation to my Mr, Mrs and Dr? Shall I have my character say Woah or Whoa? And really, how can the word pants have so many different meanings across so many English-speaking countries? The mind boggles and I have listed but a fraction of things I had to consider.
My fellow writer had a great argument: the majority of her sales have been in the US, thus if I change to US spelling, I’m catering to the larger market. It’s a fair and valid point. My argument back was that my characters are from the UK and that the story was based for the majority of time in Cambodia (of course). I haven’t yet decided if my retort was lame or not. I think the reaction was the equivalent of a raised eyebrow.
In the end, I went with US spelling. It was a heart-wrenching experience. So ingrained is my love for British-influenced English usage, that I felt physical pain (I kid you not). It was much like taking off an entire unshaven leg encased in sports tape. You know, the kind of strapping tape that sticks to every single hair and rips off the first layer of skin regardless of how slowly you go?
I’m thinking my geek-rating skyrocketed as I struggled to transfer from UK to US. The deed is done now (but I’m open to change it back).
My next story is based in Canada, which is largely UK-influenced, but also has strong US ties in the way English is written. Thus, my dilemma continues into my next novel. Something to look forward to, no doubt. Might need to buy more strapping tape to re-live the analogy.
One day, I’m going to write an Australian-based romantic saga and go as true blue as I can! Bring on the fair dinkum, the crikey and the g’day! Of course, this may also be to my detriment. Perhaps I should survey my readers first and make sure they at least know what thongs means when said by an Australian (and no, it’s not underwear).
Last, but not least, I need to thank Pam Peters, the writer of The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. What an outstanding reference! It has a significant amount of detail on English usage around the globe and all the alternate spellings you’ll ever need.
Here’s a sample of a few things I looked at (aka went through in a traumatic fashion)