1. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England

    Americanisms in British English Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by OurJud, Jul 29, 2016.

    I've noticed a bit of inconsistency in my writing which has developed for a couple of reasons. For one the story takes place in 'nowhere in particular' and uses fictitious place names. And two, I have a strange notion that British English phrases somehow lessen the power of a sentence, or at least plant the story squarely in the UK.

    For instance a sentence I wrote earlier where my characters stop at a roadside cafe has the line, 'I pulled the car into the small parking lot...'

    I used 'parking lot' because I felt it best described the scene. 'Car park, at least for me, conjures up images of a neatly laid out, designated area, covered in tarmac with crisp white lines marking the parking slots. Whereas in my head this area was a dusty, uneven, gravel-strewn patch of land alongside the cafe, with boulders marking its boundary.

    Now for all I know Americans may picture the exact same thing when reading 'parking lot' as I do when reading 'car park', so maybe I should be going with something more specific like the above description.

    In a later scene I use 'accelerator' instead of 'gas pedal'.

    The reason I haven't gone all out American is because I don't have the confidence I can pull it off, especially when using dialogue.

    My characters are English, but only in my head. I don't say this, but they most definitely are. However their setting is less clear to me. I wanted the grandeur and scope of the US landscape, but again don't have the confidence to place it there because I simply don't know its places well enough. Pretty much could be said for planting it firmly in the UK - I just haven't travelled enough to know even my own country well enough to write a road novel, hence the nowhere-in-particular setting and fictitious place names.

    I need to make a decision now to save on mountains of editing later.
     
    lexusmr likes this.
  2. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    Didn't you make a thread exactly like this a few months ago? If not, somebody else did.

    As a reader I wouldn't mind either UK English or US English in an indeterminate setting, but I think I would notice (and be annoyed by) inconsistencies. I'd pick one and go for it.

    FWIW when I read a piece of yours in the workshop I had a very strong sense it was set in the US. I don't know if you used any Americanisms but it all 'felt' very US-y.
     
  3. doggiedude
    Offline

    doggiedude Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2016
    Messages:
    1,454
    Likes Received:
    1,250
    Location:
    Florida, USA, Earth, The Sol System
    In your example, yes, "parking lot" would conjure up the image of a paved lot with neat lines for an American audience.
    You could tweak it by describing it as a "dusty lot" or "gravel lot"
    I'm not sure accelerator vs gas pedal would make a difference. I wouldn't pick either of those out as specific to America vs Britain.

    If it really matters to the final product, I wouldn't worry about it while writing it & just make sure you have an American beta read the material at the end & specifically ask them to point out phrases that stand out as not American.
     
  4. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    Did I? Possibly. Probably. I'm getting on, you know.
    Mmm, not sure if that's good or bad.
    Good to know about 'parking lot', but the accelerator Vs gas pedal really surprises me. I thought they were uniquely English and American respectively.
     
    jannert likes this.
  5. tonguetied
    Offline

    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 23, 2014
    Messages:
    548
    Likes Received:
    219
    Location:
    Near Atlanta
    OurJud, accelerator is not commonly used in the USA, you're right on that aspect. It makes more sense as our cars move to diesel, electric and propane but the term gas pedal is deeply entrenched so I doubt it will go away any time soon. BTW, "I'm getting on" sounds British to me although it is very clear as you used it, typical usage for that phrase in the USA would be for a foreigner saying they were managing with things on hand - IMO, many may disagree.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  6. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    It has two meanings in the UK - the one you describe, but also 'to grow old'. It's easy for us to pick out which one we're using from the context in which it's said.
     
    Sack-a-Doo! likes this.
  7. doggiedude
    Offline

    doggiedude Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 15, 2016
    Messages:
    1,454
    Likes Received:
    1,250
    Location:
    Florida, USA, Earth, The Sol System
    Maybe it's a regional thing for America because I would say accelerator before gas pedal
     
    Sack-a-Doo! likes this.
  8. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    What about gas vs petrol?

    I've been using 'juice' and/or 'fuel' to get around this.

    I never have understood why Americans call petrol gas, given that it's a liquid and not a gas.
     
  9. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    935
    Likes Received:
    1,065
    petrol vs gas is extremely telling in this case. I'm not sure why Americans call it gas either, but I've never heard an American refer to it is petrol. In other words, that one would give it away in an instant.

    Calling it juice/fuel is a perfectly acceptable way to get around drawing attention to your being from the UK.

    Accelerator vs gas pedal is much less telling than using the word "petrol". While I've always called it the gas pedal, I wouldn't immediately think 'Oh this person must be from the UK' if I saw it called an accelerator.

    As Doggiedude pointed out, I don't think this will be a huge issue for you if you find an American and ask them to point out the passages that seem non-American. If that's what you're going for, that is.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  10. ManOrAstroMan
    Offline

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    817
    Likes Received:
    342
    Location:
    Missouri
    FWIW, Petrol is short for petroleum, which is unprocessed crude or shale oil. Gas is short for gasoline, a petroleum byproduct. And, it does swiftly evaporate into a gas, which us more flammable than the liquid form.
    So, gas(oline) is the specific form of petrol(eum) used in cars.
     
    tonguetied, BayView and OurJud like this.
  11. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    I think I'm just going to go with an undefined UK. My characters are British and I as a writer am not American, so why pretend to be?

    Of course. My brain just ain't functioning at the mo.
     
    Spencer1990 likes this.
  12. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    935
    Likes Received:
    1,065
    Sounds good. Personally, I enjoy reading UK authors. I like seeing the variations within the same language.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  13. ManOrAstroMan
    Offline

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    817
    Likes Received:
    342
    Location:
    Missouri
    So, are your characters Brits living in America? If so, they'd likely use the phrases most familiar to them.
     
  14. OurJud
    Offline

    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    2,028
    Likes Received:
    942
    Location:
    England
    No, as I say in the above post, it's set in an undefined UK.
     
  15. ManOrAstroMan
    Offline

    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2012
    Messages:
    817
    Likes Received:
    342
    Location:
    Missouri
    Yeah, that message popped up after I hit the Post button.
     
  16. matwoolf
    Offline

    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2012
    Messages:
    2,309
    Likes Received:
    2,240
    Location:
    Brighton Heights
    I think you should back yourself a little bit more, Jud...you appear to have had a crisis of confidence. Write it 'rubbish,' for the joy of writing - and shared among writers it is understood drafting brings you home. Stick to your guns, I'm trying to say.

    Car Parks is an interesting story - in this country, at least.

    After WWII, a couple of spivs noticed aristocrats, doctors and such-like people left their vehicles on bomb sites whilst they walked away to conduct business. The spivs stroked their throats, placed a plank of wood across the way to one such bomb-site, and charged people to leave their vehicles behind, the origins of NCP - both men are multi-millionaires nowadays, very elderly millionaires, or they might be dead and less influential, a long time since I dwelt in their circle.
     
  17. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    I think you made the right decision.

    FWIW US readers are familiar with UKisms and can usually guess the ones they haven't heard before. The only phrase in 100k words that I had to change was 'jacket potato', which apparently is exclusively a British thing.
     
    jannert and OurJud like this.
  18. matwoolf
    Offline

    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2012
    Messages:
    2,309
    Likes Received:
    2,240
    Location:
    Brighton Heights
    ...except for the young man 'up top.' When Jud said he was 'getting on,' he digested this in the sense of 'getting on with things,' which is interesting or curious.
     
  19. Spencer1990
    Offline

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2016
    Messages:
    935
    Likes Received:
    1,065
    I've never heard the term 'jacket potato' but now that I looked it up,
    I think that would rely on context for me.

    My first thought about the phrase wouldn't be that it meant someone was aging. But if the context of the rest of the paragraph, page, etc showed that age was being discussed, I'd like to believe I could gather it's meaning in context.
     
    matwoolf likes this.
  20. Tenderiser
    Offline

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2015
    Messages:
    4,288
    Likes Received:
    5,161
    Location:
    London, UK
    I had to look up "navy bean soup" (haricot beans) and "steak fries" (thick cut chips) yesterday thanks to an American book. I like learning these regional differences.
     
    jannert and bonijean2 like this.
  21. bonijean2
    Offline

    bonijean2 Senior Member Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2016
    Messages:
    195
    Likes Received:
    95
    Location:
    Pacific Northwest USA
    yes, me too and depending on where you live even in the same country words and phrases can have different meanings. In small town USA most parking lots aren't paved and could be the place where old cars, old tractors or old boats sit for years while awaiting their next owner. Steak fries would just be called Jumbo's and all types of beans are just known by their color.
     
    Tenderiser likes this.
  22. matwoolf
    Offline

    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2012
    Messages:
    2,309
    Likes Received:
    2,240
    Location:
    Brighton Heights
    We don't have your bean issues, and jumbos are elephants. Go, eat elephant with your steaks, for god's sake.
     
  23. peachalulu
    Offline

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    This is something I have trouble with in my stories. Canadian phrases slip in and I'm like whoops - it's seventh grade - not grade 7.
     
    Sack-a-Doo! likes this.
  24. matwoolf
    Offline

    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2012
    Messages:
    2,309
    Likes Received:
    2,240
    Location:
    Brighton Heights
    ...whatever that means. I can do 'first grade,' - five years old? 200 lbs is...fat? Dunno really, need a calculator.
     
  25. obsidian_cicatrix
    Offline

    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 15, 2013
    Messages:
    1,711
    Likes Received:
    1,453
    Location:
    Belfast, Northern Ireland
    On the subject of Britishisms/Irishisms: One of my friends commented about my comp entry, that Americans might not know what the good ol' word 'bap' meant. I pondered it for a while. Sorry, but that is so much a part of my everyday lexicon that I wasn't gonna backspace for love nor money. I ended up sticking a bit of context round it just to be sure.

    So, just while I'm here; what do Americans call soft, floury bread rolls?
     

Share This Page