Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wednesday Writing Tips: Brits versus Yanks in the Spelling Sport

by editor Briana St. James

While some Ellora’s Cave stories are set in far-flung locales, we use American English spellings for our manuscripts. If the author is Australian, Canadian, a Brit, or grew up learning British English, this can cause some confusion and add some additional time to edits.

One of the easiest ways to identify Brit spellings is to consult your word processing program. Many versions of word processing programs (including MS Word) allow you to set your language to American English. Your spell check option will then identify words that ought to be changed to American English.

Spelling differences aren’t always as easy to spot as colour versus color or rumour versus rumor. The “ou” words are fairly common and an easy fix, but these are just the beginning of common differences.

Arse is sometimes used if characters are British, but how often do you see an American character talking about what a tight arse a hunky hero has? Theatre is sometimes used by those in the acting industry on both sides of the pond, but we’d go to a Broadway theater in Manhattan. We haven’t travelled on an aeroplane, we’ve traveled on an airplane.

Another common difference in British versus American English is the tendency to end a word ending in “ed” with a “t”— American dreamed becomes British dreamt, leaped becomes leapt, learned becomes learnt.

British English uses some hyphenated words that we have as solid in American English—co-operate, re-use, de-fuse, etc.

A commonality in phrasing that I see a lot is the tendency to use round instead of around. “She went round the pub” should be “She went to the pub. She “came round” works better as “she came over”.

The British “rang off” when used for a phone call can be confusing. A simple “disconnected” often works better, especially in the era of cell phones, when hanging up a phone call isn’t what it used to be. Ringing, when used to describe calling someone, works much better as calling. Most Americans call their cell phones just that, while much of the rest of the world calls them mobiles.

Queue can be used in some areas of America, though I believe it is pretty much confined to New England/the Mid Atlantic. In parts of America, people mostly get “on line”. But the simpler “joining the line” or “standing in line” works much better.

Be careful of words that mean something completely different, depending on which version of English one is most accustomed to speaking. A brief Brit list is provided here.

Fanny—female genitals

Thong—very skimpy undies


fag—this one is especially problematic if one means a cigarette rather than a gay slur.

Ensure vs. insure

Enquiry vs. inquiry

By keeping an eye out for these common differences, you’ll be able to streamline the editing process.


Lynne Silver said...

This is a fun list. I just spent the past 2 weeks in London with my kids, and they had a ball learning all the differences. They decided they like being on a queue better than a line, and riding in a lift rather than an elevator, and riding the Tube better than my car.

lynneconnolly said...

And how about backwards, forwards, sideways?

Barbara Elsborg said...

Yep, Lynne, they're really easy ones to forget!
I think there's an issue with centre and center too. As I understand it - sometimes centre is right??

Briana St. James said...

Lynne Silver, I hope you had a brilliant trip! I've always been partial to queuing up.

Lynne Connolly, we tend to use "ward" for towards, backwards, forewards, etc. It is one of the things I've learned to search for at the beginning and end of an edit.

Barbara, centre vs. center is another one that, at least for me, greatly confuses the eye. It can make editing challenging :)

Susan D said...

The US English spellcheck I just used to Americanise/ize my ms didn't object to any double consonents (e.g., travelling) so of course I left them all in, assuming it was something Americans can take or leave.

Thing about being Canadian is, we pretty much see it all.

Tilly Greene said...

The bane of my life [and my beloved editor Briana's :-)] is grey vs gray! I still can't remember which Americans claim. That is the backlash of living in both - you often can't remember who does which when it comes to the less obvious spellings/scenarios.