Friday, August 7, 2015

Mind Your Language – a Brit on American Shores by guest blogger A.D. Garrett

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Here at JRW, we're very familiar with Americans writing about the English in Great Britain (Debs) or ex-pats writing about the Brits in their native land (Rhys.) But Brits writing an Englishwoman in Oklahoma? That's a new one.

A.D. Garrett - who is Margaret Murphy, Dagger-winning author of psychological mysteries and short stories, assisted by forensic scientist Dave Barclay -  hit it out of the park with EVERYONE LIES, the first thriller featuring DCI Kate Simms and forensics expert Prof. Nick Fennimore. Booklist compared Garrett's writing to Ken Bruen and Val McDermid, and Publisher's Weekly gave it 5 stars.

But how to follow up a dark thriller set on the gritty streets of Manchester? Send your Inspector and expert to Oklahoma, of course. Here's A.D. Garrett to tell us why BELIEVE NO ONE is set in the American west...and how researching language differences is as necessary as researching bloodstains






What do you see here – a pond, or a lake?
Your answer probably depends on whether you’re American or British. I’ve had an obsession with words since I was a kid – well, you would expect of a writer – but I am also fascinated by the differences between British and American English. When I started reading American thrillers as a young teen, I was soon hooked on the sharp dialogue of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct, and my early attempts at writing dialogue owe much to film adaptations of Ross MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.

I’d always had a hankering to set a novel in the United States, and when the opportunity arose with the second in the Fennimore & Simms series, I couldn’t wait to plant my feet on American soil. It’s often said that we are “two nations separated by a common language”, and the word “pond” was the first to illustrate the point. Oklahoma created more ponds, post-Dust Bowl than any other state, and I decided that was where the killer would dump the bodies of his victims. “You couldn’t hide a body in a pond,” my forensic advisor said. “It’d be too small.” Which was understandable because, like me, he’s a Brit, and what Brits call a pond, an American might call a puddle.

An American farm pond, on the other hand, could be up to an acre across. But this novel was already commissioned by UK and American publishers, and there’s bond of trust between writer and reader. Break that bond with what seems to be a jarring error and you risk losing them; so clearly I had to satisfy readers on both sides of the, um... Pond. I tackled that linguistic anomaly on the first page of Believe No One.


I work closely with a forensic scientist to ensure that the Fennimore & Simms thrillers are forensically accurate, and having gone to that trouble, I would surely be selling my readers short if I didn’t do justice to the colour and energy of American expression. Which is why, during our research trip, I filled three notebooks, not only with procedural details, but with snatches of dialogue, too.

The use of job titles is a much stronger tradition in the US than in the UK, but I was surprised to hear our guide, Detective Mike Nance, address Judge Tom Gillert respectfully as “Judge”. In Britain, that would be considered disrespectful. Instead, we would use “your honour’ or the positively feudal, “My lord”, which, as every Rumpole fan will know, is usually contracted to “M’lud”. At sharp end of law enforcement, the term “Billy-Bob from the backwoods” was frequently used to disparage clueless sheriffs’ deputies. In the UK, the equivalent phrase would be “PC plod” or the more culturally rich, “Woodentop”.


On the fourth day of our trip, we met District Attorney Kuester in Sapulpa, Oklahoma. The courthouse had airport-style security checks, including an X-ray gizmo, and as my handbag slid through the scanner, the security guard said, “Woah! Do you have a skeleton key in your purse, ma’am?”

I couldn’t think what she meant, but as I stammered a reply, it came to me. ‘It could be the mortise key to our back door at home.’
‘I don’t know what that is. You need to show me,’ she said. (I never heard an American apologise for not knowing something – not once – which was great when I sat down to think about characters, but was no help at all at that precise moment . . .)
I rummaged in my handbag apologising like a Brit for holding up the queue. Finally I handed the offending item it to her, and thankfully, she was satisfied. 

 
“That’s all right.” She waved me through, laughing. “But you weren’t gettin’ in there with a skeleton key in your purse.” Then she stopped me again. ‘Can you do me a favour?’ she said, lowering her voice. “Will you say bloody? I love the way you Brits say ‘bloody’.”
“I bloody well won’t,” I said, with false indignation.
She laughed uproariously. “You made my day!”
That in itself was a lesson in linguistic difference: British construction would be, “You’ve just made my day!”


Typically, a Brit would make a suggestion by saying, “Perhaps we should...” – or, more forcefully: “We really should...” which translated in the US to a far more decisive, “We need to” – as in, “We need to outlaw hand dug wells.” As my ear became attuned, I found more examples of this brevity and directness in American speech. Our hosts might ask, “Did you eat?” In British English that would be, “Have you eaten yet?” Eaten is a lovely Old English word, like chosen, or sudden, and the –en ending is still widely used, though not so commonly in the US as in the UK. Where a Brit might say, ‘She’s fallen over,’ an American is more likely to say, “She fell.” It’s a surprise, then, that Brits get so hot under the collar about the American word: “gotten” – perhaps they have forgotten, it originates from Middle English and was common usage in Britain for 600 years...?


Local dialect and geographically specific words provide crucial clues to the identity of the serial killer in Believe No One, and there’s a whole branch of forensic linguistics called “Language Pattern Analysis”. In real life, as in fiction, LPA is great at catching bad guys. In 2013 Dr Jack Grieve and Dr Tim Grant examined the emails of Jamie and Debbie Starbuck. They were purportedly on a round-the-world trip together but Jamie was suspected of having murdered his wife and of sending emails home in her name. Their analysis identified a date on which emails from Debbie Starbuck's account shifted to be consistent with Jamie's written style and Jamie Starbuck was later convicted of Debbie's murder.


Back in Blighty, I listened to Oklahoma radio stations and watched a lot of US TV series to “keep my ear in”; I even started talking with a distinct “twang”. But I still had to grapple with a British proofreader over a single word – “if”. I had a homicide detective say, “I’d put every one of them on CODIS, I had my way.” In British English the correct form would be: “I’d put every one of them on CODIS, if I had my way.” That “if” was indispensible, she argued; I insisted that the American idiom should stand. I won that one. Well, sometimes you just have to stand up for the little things in life.

Do you have a favourite Britishism – or one that you hate?
Have you been confused by British or American English usage?
I will give away a copy of BELIEVE NO ONE for my favourite comment of the day!


A.D.Garrett is the pseudonym used by novelist and Dagger Award-winning short story writer, Margaret Murphy when writing her forensic thrillers. Forensic and technical guidance for the first two novels in the series is provided by forensic scientist, Prof. Dave Barclay.

You can discover more about A.D. Garrett and read her blog at her website. You can friend her and read a day-by-day account of the "Team Garrett" US research trip on Facebook; follow her on Twitter as @adgarrett1 and check out her book trailers and interviews on her YouTube channel.


BELIEVE NO ONE is the sequel to forensic thriller EVERYONE LIES.
Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on assignment in the United States with St Louis PD, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore follows her, keen to pick up where they left off after their last case – but the last thing Simms needs is Fennimore complicating her life...

A call for help from a rural sheriff’s deputy takes Fennimore to Oklahoma; a welcome distraction, until he discovers the circumstances – a mother is dead, her child gone – and they’re not the only ones. How many more young mothers have been killed, how many children are unaccounted for?
Meanwhile, nine-year-old Red, adventuring in Oklahoma’s backwoods, has no clue that he and his mom are in the killer’s sights – but soon the race is on to find a serial killer and save the boy.

75 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I don't really have a particular "favorite" [or a "dislike" for that matter] when it comes to Britishisms, but I must confess that the difference between "pond" and "lake" is new to me. I think the use of language is quite intriguing and I found your discussion of researching language differences absolutely fascinating.
I'm looking forward to reading "Believe No One" . . . .

A.D. Garrett said...

Thanks, Joan. I love the differences - as you might have guessed from the post! Before we got used to it over here, 'Do you want a ride?' translated into something slightly improper in British English, but now it's used fairly frequently by younger Brits. And I've noticed some actors in US crime series have started using the word 'lift' - is that an East Coast thing, I wonder, or is the adoption of phrases and saying very much a two-way street? BTW, there's a great blog on US/UK linguistic differences by an American in England: http://separatedbyacommonlanguage.blogspot.co.uk/

Kait said...

What a lovely post. I've long read Brit books with a British/American dictionaries at my side. When I was in college, I had a great desire to see the world. This is in the days of student fares. So, I hopped BOAC (yes, it was a long time ago) to London, hired a car (don't ask, it was a simpler time - and learning how to drive a left hand stick in London...), and drove to the Lake District where I did two things, ran out of money of any specie and managed to talk my way into a job as a barmaid. The job paid only tips (and much to my surprise, tips were not common at the time, at least not in the local), but it did provide free room and board. In any event, my grade school teachers had been war brides I was nearly fluent, and my US accent was a great tip maker since there was something hilarious about 'tipping the Yank.' My first night working, I heard a comment from a young man to another much older man. The young man said, "Tell your daughter I'll come 'round and knock her up later." I dropped the beer I was pulling. You see, in the US he'd just offered to make her pregnant!

Hallie Ephron said...

Thanks for shedding some light on this.I'm one of those folks who sometimes needs to turn on subtitles (in English) when I'm watching a British TV show. Love the turns of phrase and words... brilliant!

Karen in Ohio said...

Hmm, I think there are also regional differences, don't you, Reds? Sometimes it seems as though we live in a lot of different countries.

One of my least favorite Britishisms is "have got", when "have" will do nicely. I've even heard Prince Charles use it.

Twenty-five years ago, when Usenet made the world much smaller, and I was corresponding daily with other sewing enthusiasts around the globe, we made a list of terms that were confusingly different in the UK and the US. For instance, "muslin" in the States is a plainweave cotton, usually beige. In the UK it's what we would call "calico". Which is what we call muslin in the States, but calico here is a printed cotton, usually a floral print. Often called "sprigged muslin" across the "pond".

Hard to believe we ever shared any common history sometimes!

A.D. Garrett said...
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A.D. Garrett said...

Karen, those regional differences put me in something of a quandary when lovely Mike Nance (our host in Oklahoma) read through the novel to check for any English American howlers. I had looked up local usage for fizzy soft drinks (what we call lemonade, but I think is very different from the properly made lemon drink you have in the States). I couldn't decide between soda, cola, Sprite, Coke, or what all else, but ended up with soda. Mike said, "You know we call it 'pop', locally." Which was fascinating, because I'd never heard it called that in US films or on TV, and yet it is commonly used in northern England. In the end, I reluctantly stayed with 'soda', because it's generic, and UK readers wouldn't be thrown by what appeared to be a glaringly British word.

"Have got" - yes, I read an American complaining bitterly about it online, yesterday. A British grammarian argued that it's perfectly correct in British English. I think the American fiction I read as a child influenced me, though - I've always preferred 'I have', which flows so much more prettily. Although I do say, 'Have you got?'.

Fascinating details on fabrics. It took me a while (pre-internet) to discover what a 'Mary Jane' shoe looked like!

A.D. Garrett said...

Hallie - I sometimes do the same with US series - especially when the actors are speaking with strong accents! I find New Orleans particularly difficult to understand because they elide their words - and don't even get me started on The Wire - which I loved - but needed subs for the bad-ass slang. And maybe I could use some occasionally with British TV... When I looked up "Woodentops" for the blog, I found the TV series it refers to on YouTube. I couldn't tell what the narrator was saying about Spotty Dog not liking something. It's about 6 mins 43 seconds into the recording. My husband watched it with me, and he couldn't tell, either - until we got the context a minute or so later. Can you tell what she's saying in her very Received Pronunciation? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEgg0h2FvFY

Mary Sutton said...

Oh yes, the regional differences. I'm from Buffalo, but live in Pittsburgh. The first time someone asked, "Do you want me to ride you over?" I was appropriately perplexed. The also tend to drop pronouns in The 'Burgh - "Can I get a ride with?" instead of "Can I get a ride with you?"

We call it pop in Western Pennsylvania and Western New York, too. I wrote a book set in Niagara Falls and my critique partners all asked about that.

I don't have a favorite Britishism - but I love listening to a British/Scottish/Irish/Australian accent. And yes, sometimes the slang trips me up. I remember having to look up "slip a mickey" when I was reading Harry Potter.

A.D. Garrett said...

Hi Kait!
'Knock her up...' - that one made me laugh! You'd think her dad would clip the cheeky beggar 'round th'ear 'ole for that, wouldn't you? Funny thing is, they still use that expression in some parts of northern England to mean 'call round' or 'drop by', but not where I'm from (Liverpool). There, it meant 'make her pregnant' even when I was a youngster. Oh, and BOAC... that brings back memories. I remember when those natty little blue bags with the BOAC logo on them were considered the height of sophistication.

Hallie Ephron said...

Laughing, A. D. - watched that video. The only bit I didn't get right away was "bawth" -- Which is weird because my mother, for some reason (she grew up in the Bronx) used to ask if we were ready for our "bawth."(Not so weird, maybe -- Here is Bawston people ask about your Aunt: Awnt instead of Ant.)

A.D. Garrett said...

Hallie - yep! That was the one that stumped me (and Murf) - and I'm used to hearing people 'talk posh'! In the north of England it's bath with a short 'a' and Aunt pronounced 'Ant'. Hadn't thought about the 'aw' in Bawston' before.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

"England and America are two countries separated by the same language" — often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but perhaps originated with Oscar Wilde — and definitely used by Winston Churchill.

Susan D said...

In Canada, we've heard it all. And we speak it all. So I have an occasional surprise when I realise that some phrase we take for granted is foreign in the States. (Including, apparently, the term "the States".

Oh, and we say pop or soft drink (slightly formal), though of course Americanisms creep over the border in greater numbers every year.

A.D. Garrett said...

Mary Sutton - Ah, I'd always wondered about 'You want to come with?' I always want to finish the sentence for whoever's speaking - it's like waiting for that second shoe to drop. So that's a fairly local idiom?

Interesting that 'pop' isn't so unusual - and that your readers queried it, too!

'slip a mickey - as in "Mickey Finn"'? And what about 'taking the mickey'? Which is from the verb 'to micturate' - a polite way of framing a vulgarism that means 'making fun of'.

A.D. Garrett said...

Ha! I did not know that 'the States' was an alien formulation, Susan D. I usually instinctively use 'the US' - but do Americans find it annoying when their United States are truncated to 'the States'?

Mary Sutton said...

A.D. - It's fairly common in Pittsburgh. I'd never heard it before I moved here. And yes, I was always waiting for the end of the sentence. =)

Yep, making fun of. I can't find the exact references, but in both cases it was something like "take the mickey out of him" or the like.

A.D. Garrett said...
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A.D. Garrett said...

Apparently scholars haven't found it in Wilde's writing, Susan Elia MacNeal, but they did find, "The Americans and the British are identical in all respects except, of course, their language". It is said that when Wilde commented on a barbed witticism from James Whistler, saying that he wished he'd thought of it. To which Whistler replied, 'You will, Oscar. You will.' And Churchill wasn't above appropriation either, it would seem ;)

Denise Ann said...

Fascinating. Even with hearing aids, I have difficulty with hearing -- and in London earlier this summer, I was having a terrible time. [Aside, my daughter and I agreed that it was very hard to eavesdrop in London because so many different languages were being spoken!] I decided in the end I was having trouble with the rhythm of speech -- what you are saying about small words being used or not, makes sense.

I love your titles. Of course "everyone lies" and "believe no one."

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Welome, A.D.! Yes, it's difficult enough living in Boston..where a conversation might be:

PERSON ONE: Oh, my mother had such a hard time finding a parking place at the mall.
PERSON TWO: Yes, my family went, too, and so didm't they.

Meaning the second person's family also could not find a parking place. It makes me laugh every time.

A.D. Garrett said...

Eavesdropping - one of life's special pleasures... But you're so right about rhythms of speech. It takes a while just to get attuned, Denise Ann!

A.D. Garrett said...

Love it! I'm a bit vague on the specifics, but I think there's a construction in Oklahoma that goes, 'Would should've'. And isn't there a line in On The Waterfront, "You should aughter taken care of me.' ?

A.D. Garrett said...

Sorry - I keep forgetting to add people's names. That last one was for Hank PhilippinI Ryan!

Julia said...

When I went to school in London for a term, the one that first tripped me up was "taking a piss," meaning to make fun of, pull the wool over the eyes (I realize as I'm typing this that there's not a good American equivalent for this phrase, and the closest I think of, "having one on," is also British.) Needless to say, it means something entirely different in the US.

One word I keep hoping will cross the Atlantic is "chuffed." It's such a perfect expression for which, again, we don't have quite the same word; more enthusiastic than "pleased," more personal than "happy."

Conversations like this really makes one appreciate the almost limitless bredth and flexibility of the English language. No wonder it's become the world's lingua franca.

Julia said...

Or even the breadth of the language. Sigh. Why doesn't Blogger have a spell check function?

Linda said...

The thing that trips me up in books set in UK or Ireland is the educational system -- forms, A and O levels, etc. And the university-level system is a complete mystery!

CarolM said...

My favorite Britishism I think is "it's all gone pear-shaped." (Here that term isn't much used, except occasionally to describe a certain female body type.)

Maureen Wysham said...

I, as many others, I'm sure, got my first taste of British-isms from reading Agatha Christie. I was also fascinated to read about the differences between British english and New Zealand english while reading Ngaio Marsh.
One of my favorite British-isms is "Bob's yer uncle." I've occasionally used that term for fun, and consistently find my friends looking at me as if I'm crazy.
As for British terms I learned through the years, there are so many: lift v. elevator, flat v. apartment, spanner v. wrench, boot v. trunk, lorry v. truck, biscuit v. cookie...
Ms. Murphy mentions the soda v. pop debate; I find it fascinating, as well, especially as it pertains to the use of Coke as a generic term for soda. In certain parts of the south, if you ask for Coke as your soda, the waitress will likely ask, "What kind?" Oh, and there's the regional difference between sack and bag, creek and crick (in pronunciation, not spelling), roof and roof, again in pronunciation only. The list is endless, and such fun to explore!

Pat D said...

I'm surprised they call that a pond in Oklahoma. In Texas it is a tank, or cattle tank. Looks just like a pond though! I love the regional differences in our language. I know when I worked as a CPA in Ohio I told a client let's try this and see if it flies. He just looked at me like What? In the panhandle a hard rain can be a frog gagger. In New Orleans if you're given something more than you expect that extra is lagniappe (lan-yap). Living in Minnesota we heard How is that tasting? for the first time from waitstaff. And I love how if something costs too much it is spendy. And traffic lights are stop-and-go lights. In Ohio some of our best friends say youse guys. Love it.
I'm still learning British English. When I was a kid I'd be reading a romantic suspense and our heroine would go put on a jumper. I couldn't figure out why she would be changing into a dress.

Deborah Crombie said...

Pat D, so funny. The first thing I thought when I looked at the photo was, that's not a pond, it's a tank! So I'm surprised, A.D., that they don't say "tank" in Oklahoma since we do in north Texas, more or less across the border. The more proper term would be "stock tank." And we say the generic "coke", and sometimes the more formal "soft drink," but not "pop" or "soda." I think the British "fizzy drink" sums it up nicely.

Most of you know that I am permanently language confused. I often use British terms at home in Texas without thinking. My family is used to it, but I get odd looks from strangers. The one construction I always find awkward when writing in "British English" is the use of "got" and "forgot" instead of "gotten" and "forgotten." Perfectly good English! And what about "bath" instead of "bathe?" That's always confusing, too. But we get more cross cultural--or cross language--all the time. Brits have a steady diet of American TV and films, and now there's a whole generation of Americans who grew up on Harry Potter, which is lovely. (Innit? :-))

A.D., I love the title! Were you by any chance an X-Files fan??? And I'm very intrigued by your books, but am going to start with the first one because I want to read them in order.

A.D. Garrett said...

Hi, Julia, ' Taking the piss' = 'Taking the mickey' - that's the one I've been dancing around all day! I do like 'chuffed' - there's a big grin implied I the word, and a becoming modesty.

A.D. Garrett said...

Linda, No wonder the education system trips you up - they keep changing it! I was a schoolteacher for 17 years in England, and I'm now completely out of touch. I made an error in Believe No One with the Scottish system, which has 'Highers', and had to enlist the help of Dave's wife, who was in Scottish education.

University is much simpler - first degree, Masters, Master of Philosophy (MPhil) Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). But you use 'professor' differently in the US. We would only use the title for the highest level of academic achievement.

A.D. Garrett said...

Carol - 'It's all gone pear-shaped' is so descriptive, isn't it?

A.D. Garrett said...

Maureen Wytham, lovely list of comparisons! There's an extra clause to 'Bob'so yer uncle' which is seldom used these days. The full phrase is 'Bob's yer uncle and Fanny's yer aunt.' Meaning 'it's as easy as that!' - usually after giving instructions about how to do something.

Spanner is usually a tool with closed ring for tightening nuts, and a wrench is adjustable. But just to complicate matters, you can also have an adjustable spanner...

Lisa Alber said...

What a great post -- I love getting a Brit's perspective on how we speak. I had no clue we speak in a direct, succinct way. My perspective on that is that the Brits speak in a very polite way. :-)

Above, you asked about saying "the States" -- I've never heard of that being a problem. I certainly have no qualms--much less of a mouthful, which might go to our tendency to be succinct. Most people here say "the US," but I prefer the former, one less syllable, hehe.

One thing I wonder about. Your discussion about omitting "if" must be local to Oklahoma. It reads "wrong" to me (not to offend you, of course!). I live in the Pacific Northwest, and it's true that southern speak often seems like more of a foreign English than British English!

I can relate to your notebook full of dialogue. My novels take place in Ireland. I fill up notebooks while I'm over there. Even so, I fear I get way too much wrong, especially because in a pinch I'm likely to add a British-ism, which may not apply to the Irish. Hard to keep all that straight. Might be kind of like keeping southern US speak and western US speak straight.

I love the cover. Looking forward to reading this!

A.D. Garrett said...

A tank, Pat D?!! I love frog gagger - we've had a lot of those this summer. I might try that out on my friends next downpour we have. A jumper is a dress? Who would have thought?

Jim Collins said...

Thanks for this entertaining column! Having had a very proper and rigorous Catholic education--nuns followed by monks followed by priests and finally a few lay teachers--I tend to appreciate ways in which British English still actually follows the rules that I learned way back when. I cringe when I hear Americans using "(someone) and I" as the object of a verb, such as "be sure to send that to Mary and I." My British friends and colleagues don't do that sort of thing (much). Most of them know what the subjunctive voice is and how to use it! They also seem to have broader vocabularies than most Americans. When I remarked on a conference call that I had "lost my gruntle" over something disagreeable, my Irish colleagues chuckled and the locals were mystified.

One thing that I find wonderfully evocative, and which I have not managed to employ successfully, is Cockney rhyming slang. That seems like a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Unfortunately, over the last few years, I've gone kind of pear-shaped...

A.D. Garrett said...

Hi Deborah Crombie,

Listening to myself speak during research trip I heard tentative rather than polite :) Re. usage - now you're really making me think... We don't use 'gotten' as you know, but 'forgot' and 'forgotten' are both used. You would say, 'I forgot the milk.' but 'I've forgotten the milk.' Similarly, with bath and bathe - you might say 'I'm going to have a bath.' but you would say 'I'm going to bathe.' That second example is a bit formal and sounds old-fashioned, though. If you are going to bathe in something (asses' milk comes to mind(!)) you would always add the 'e' at the end.

I was an X Files fan, but I have a sneaking suspicion 'Everyone Lies' came out of watching several series of HOUSE back-to-back.

A.D. Garrett said...

Oh, Jim Collins, I am no grammarian! Wouldn't know a subjunctive from a submarine. I have heard the queen say 'My husband and I' though - on the telly, of course - I've never actually met her...

Maureen Wysham said...

So, a spanner is a box wrench. Got it!
That's funny—in my head, when I typed, "Got it!", I heard the response in an English/Cockney accent, complete with glottal stops.

A.D. Garrett said...

Lisa Alber, That ommission of 'if' is a verbatim quote - I hesitate to admit it because I tell my creative writing students just because it's 'real' it doesn't make good dialogue. I would argue here that, used with restraint, local idiom can add depth (Harrumph!)

One ME I met in Oklahoma said she had to take a 'translator' with her when she went to the more rural counties.

Ooh, Irish... that must be fun. I met a lot of Americans on a trip to Dublin in June. A few had actually retired there. I also learned that a 'ride' in Ireland can mean an attractive person of either sex!

A.D. Garrett said...

Box wrench - sorted!

Sherry Harris said...

Great post! My husband spent his elementary school years in Nigeria going to British schools. When his family moved back to the States he was failing all of his spelling tests and writing assignments. His father finally went to the school and explained that "colour" and "neighbour" were the proper way to spell things in other parts of the world. After that they cut my husband some slack. To this day my sister-in-law calls the trunk of the car the boot. I love the differences in our languages too.

Keenan Powell said...

Yes! Glad you asked. What's with that nose-tapping thing?

In America, we call judges Your Honor when they are on they are on the bench and Judge when they are off the bench. I don't know why; I just do what I'm told.

Lisa Alber said...

Oh I agree, A.D. I got so enamored of the Irish way of speaking that I rendered an early draft totally unrealistic to US readers. It read so over the top that now I laugh about it--even though it was realistic. I yanked out most of it. Restraint, yes. :-)

I learned to be careful about offering up rides to people ... Better to say, You want a lift?

The Irish say "craic" (pronounced "crack") a lot, at least in the west. It just means a fun time, but I thought the speaker was talking about crack cocaine.

SharonTX said...

Thanks for a great post. It's interesting to read about the difficulties caused by our common, but not identical, language. When done well, a reader won't suspect the work required. (Because of the "pop in Oklahoma" thing, I'm now wondering if Julia and others see small things in John Connolly's books that as a southerner I'd not notice.)

I've gotten sidetracked by the subject of fizzy drinks - not just a UK vs US thing. There are regional differences and generational differences which could be tricky. As a child (after more thought than should be required)I'm pretty sure that in my home our generic term was "cold drink." We usually had several kinds: Coke, orange drink, root beer. Orange drink was a tricky one because someone who preferred Nesbitt orange might refuse a Nehi.

My next door neighbors called everything Coke, other neighbors said soda pop, and my grandfather, who was born at the end of the 19th century, never quit saying soda water. No consistency where I grew up, an author could pick any term and I wouldn't see a problem.

I've been reading books from the UK and Ireland for long enough that most differences in usage don't bother me. If I come across a word or phrase I don't understand, there's always Google. So I think my main peeve when reading British/Scottish/Irish set novels is more a frustration than a dislike: names.

Character names and place names can be frustrating for an obsessive US reader who has no clue how to pronounce them. For example, Elly Griffiths' Clough is a thorn in my side with no audio books available yet and no sound clips on her website. It's not a name I've come across here and there are too many ways to pronounce "ough" - and then she adds a Y, Cloughy. Does that rhyme with Chloe or phooey or orange roughy?












A.D. Garrett said...

Thanks, Sherry! One of my favourite names for cars in the US is 'station wagon' - we call those 'estates' which is baffling, even to a Brit, born & bred.

A.D. Garrett said...

Keenan Powell 'Your Honor when they are on the bench and Judge when they are off the bench.' What a nice distinction!

Nose tapping - now you've got me stumped...

A.D. Garrett said...

It does make you sit up and take notice the first time you hear, 'It's great cracking (craic) at that bar.' ;)

Deborah Crombie said...

SharonTX, I assumed that "Clough" rhymed with "plow." A.D???

And yes, we said "cold drink," too. Although we had "soda fountains," which I always thought was because of the seltzer they used to carbonate the flavored drink syrups. So confusing! Then there's "Creme Soda." Why is that?

A.D. Garrett said...

Glad you enjoyed the blog, but goodness, SharonTX - if I'd known how fraught the whole fizzy drink issue was, I might never have started! I sympathise re. names - I mentioned Dennis Lehane at a writers' conference in Dublin and got a sharp intake of breath from the Irish contingent. It's an Irish name, of course, and they pronounce it 'Lehaan'. Clough would be pronounced Cluff, and Cloughey 'Cluffee'. I once heard Ian Rankin say he wished he hadn't called Sergeant Clarke 'Siobhan'. It's another Irish name, and it's pronounced 'Shivawn'...

Deborah Crombie said...

http://www.highlandparksodafountain.com/

My mom lived near hear when she was in her late teens. She used to stop in on her way to work in the mornings and have a ham sandwich and a "cokacola" for breakfast. And the place is still going strong. Isn't that fun?

Maureen Wysham said...

Speaking of funny translation stories, my brother spent a semester in Scotland, and stayed with a host family for a few days before the semester (or would it be "term" in Scotland?) began. After eating dinner, as a way of complimenting the dinner, he said, "Boy, am I stuffed!" Of course, the kids in the family starting laughing. Getting stuffed has a very different meaning there than here, of course.

As for writing the colloquialisms in a book, I'm reminded of too many authors who overplay the use of y'all, or continue to liberally salt a teenager's dialogue with "like" and "totally". Okay, we get it; we don't need to be hit over the head with the character's identity.

And don't get me started on characters who call their friends by name in dialogue: "You know, Diane, it's great to see you again." "I love the dress you're wearing, Lisa."

Sorry; I have a long list of pet peeves as a reader.

Kathy Reel said...

What a fascinating piece on British English and American English! I imagine that many a tourist has been surprised by the result of a request when it means one thing in England and another in America. You appear to have an excellent grasp of the differences, A.D. And, I completely understand the security person asking you to say "bloody." I am enamored with (apparently, the British use "enamored of") the Scottish language in general. I know that there are different variations in different areas. I have asked author Catriona McPherson to talk, just so I can hear her Scottish accent and word choice. "Hen" is a favorite Scottish term. I also love "gobsmacked," but I'm not sure it Scotland or England get credit for that one. Like Maureen, I'm very fond of "Bob's yer uncle." And, like Maureen, since I read so many novels set in England and Scotland, I find myself sometimes using their language and then wondering if the person I'm talking to understood me. I've not had any complaints though. A friend and I often talk "novel" talk to each other, and say things like, "I ken you would come, hen." She reads a lot of Scottish novels, too.

One term I grew up using came as a complete surprise to my mother-in-law when I moved from northeastern Kentucky to western Kentucky after I married her son. I hadn't lived in my husband's hometown very long, and his mother and I went out shopping. We stopped at a hamburger joint to eat lunch. I told her we could put the packages in the boot. She looked at me with a puzzled expression upon her face and asked me what I meant. I told her I meant the boot, the trunk of the car. Her eyes widened in understanding when I said "trunk." I'm guessing that some of the language I grew up with filtered down from the Appalachia part of eastern Kentucky, where they are, or were, more closely aligned with the "Queen's English." Of course, turn about was fair play when my MIL and I ordered our hamburgers, and she ordered hers through the garden. I asked her if she was ordering a salad, too, and she explained that the phrase "through the garden" meant with everything on it.

Another turn of phrase that I love is, I think, Irish. Lisa Alber, you can help with this one, too. In reading Anne Cleeland's Detective Kathleen Doyle and Chief Inspector Acton series, Kathleen, who is Irish, is always saying, "I'm that sorry." I've found myself saying things, such as, "I'm that happy" or "I'm that impressed," or the sort.

So, I am looking forward to jumping into your series, A.D., and feeding my British addiction yet more great reading.

A.D. Garrett said...

To understand -ough names Deborah and SharonTX you have to be born here. How would you pronounce Featherstonehough? It was used to test people suspected of being German spies trying to infiltrate Britain in WII. It's pronounced Fanshaw. I rest my case.

A.D. Garrett said...

How fab - a soda fountain emporium that's survived for over a hundred years, Deborah!

A.D. Garrett said...

Maureen - they have started using 'semester' at universities here, but no one really understands what it means, and you will hear people mixing the two: 'The new semester starts in the spring term.' kind of thing. As for get stuffed - yes, I could see it might raise eyebrows (snigger).

Marianne in Maine said...

Another author for me to read. Thanks, Reds, and hello, AD! Your series sounds wonderful.

Regarding that "if." I live in the Northeast and that sentence is just wrong without the "if." :-) But we sure don't talk southern up here.

"Good on ya" is something I love to hear when we'd say "Good for you" but maybe that's more Southern Hemisphere. And then there's all the car things: boot, windscreen, bonnet, the way the Brits say carburetor, for example.

Good luck with the new book. I'm going to look up the first one right now.

Karen in Ohio said...

Kathy Reel, in high school I had a boyfriend who'd moved to Ohio from Appalachian Kentucky (and who looked like what the Incredible Hulk aspired to, minus the green tinge). Hulk was refurbishing an old car, and I spent many an hour keeping him company while he worked under a big shade tree. He kept referring to the boot. Took me half the summer to figure out he was talking about the trunk.

A.D. Garrett said...

'Through the garden' - lovely, Kathy! Wasn't there a strong Scottish presence in the Appalachian mountains, historically. How do you pronounce Appalachia BTW? 'I'm that happy.' That's real a blast from my past! I was brought up in Liverpool (think The Beatles), which had a big Irish community, and we used 'that' in the same way. Also 'dead', for some reason - 'That's dead good, that.' Why the repetition? Search me.

A.D. Garrett said...

Hi Marianne in Maine (waves). Good on ya for seeking out the books! ;)

Kathy Reel said...

A.D., the pronunciation of Appalachia, like many places, depends on where you live. If you are from Appalachia, you will say Appa-LATCH-uh. If you are not from there, it's usually Appa-LAY-shuh. The area in which I grew up is not northern Kentucky proper, nor is it eastern Kentucky. It is rather northeastern Kentucky on the Ohio River. I say Appa-Lay-shuh, which would indicate I am far enough removed from Appalachia for that pronunciation to have kicked in, but close enough to have inherited boot for trunk.

Karen, that's too funny. Your boyfriend must have had some language shock when he listened to Ohio talk, too. My sister married a man from Cleveland, OH, and they always pronounced their state, O-hi-o. On my sister's side of the family, we said, O-hi-ah.

Jim Collins said...

One last soft-drink term that I'd forgotten till I saw this conversation: my father's parents, who came over from County Cork and lived in Massachusetts, would offer me a "tonic" or "tonic water," not meaning the thing that you mix with gin, but any sort of soda. i don't know that I ever heard it anywhere else.

Dave Barry had a cute piece long ago about the Missouri Compromise being an agreement that half the state would say "Missour-ee" and the other half "Missour-uh."

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I'm in some FB groups that are mainly British so I have picked up many expressions..I think my favourite is:,"i am off out".,And I do think that people in England use more slang than we do. Chrimbo for Christmas is one.,If I wasn't so sleepy, I would think of more. I have spent a lot of time in England over the last 40 (gulp) years and have a very dear friend there who doesn't use slang so maybe it is an age thing!

Reine said...

Being out west now, I miss having the option of a milkshake (cold whipped milk and flavored syrup) or a frappe (milk, flavored syrup and ice cream) like we used to have back home in Massachusetts. I realize I may find that these may no longer be available back east, but fast food shakes made of frozen non-dairy something, I can do without. I'll have to make the real thing in my blender.

If. I am pretty sure you need the if in that sentence. Could it be a very local colloquialism?

Reine said...

PS: The book sounds terrific!

A.D. Garrett said...

Thanks for the pronunciation tip, Kathy. I love the TV series, 'Justified' and had heard both on there. You're right about slang, Mary Anne, another one is adding -ey or-y onto everything - names, places, events. (See earlier comment) Footballers are particularly prone to this modification of their names. It's pronounced 'ee' - as in Banksy.

Chuckle... that ommission of 'if' is more controversial than ever imagined, Reine. It was a Tulsan who said it, and I'm blaming him ;)

Reine said...

Oh yeah. Definitely blame the guy from Tulsa. Don't listen to his cousin from Muskogee, either.

A.D. Garrett said...

Okay, it's decision time. I enjoyed all the comments, and had enormous fun chatting with you all, so thanks for the great "craic"! My favourite, because of its sheer range of linguistic goodies, had "frog gagger", "how's that tasting?", "stop-and-go lights", "waitstaff", "spendy" and that delightful US/UK confusion over jumper/sweater/dress. So the winner is... Pat D

Jennifer Gray said...

Past the competition time, of course, but I had to add one more: the British road signs that say "changed priorities ahead". I get that it means that the road layout has changed, but it just sounds so terribly metaphysical!

Libby Dodd said...

Pond vs lake It isn't just USA vs UK.
In south Florida anything larger than a teacup is a "lake".
In Maine anything smaller than the Atlantic ocean is a "pond".
Yes, I've exaggerated, but not by much!

Gillian said...

"Table" in parliamentary procedure --exact opposite meanings in US and UK. And of course there's the word "fanny." In the US "fanny" means what a Brit would refer to as his bum. Whereas in the UK it refers to a woman's genitals. One of my favo(u)rite Briticisms is "moggy" for cat. I'm fourth generation American but enough Briticisms lingered in my family from our Welsh and English forbears that my mother got graded down in college essays for having too many affected Briticisms in her writing. When I got to school I was surprised to learn the last letter of the alphabet was not called "zed" and the first digit when counting from 0 upwards was not "naught." And that w and y were not sometimes vowels. Every adult book in our house when I was a child was by British authors-I didn't read any American authors til taking an American lit class for college.

A.D. Garrett said...

Jennifer Gray: "changed priorities ahead" - coming across that one for the first time, by the time you've worked out what it means, you could be in a lot of trouble...

Libby and Gillian, lovely linguistic quirks!

So 'table' in US legislature would mean to throw it out, rather than put it forward?

A.D. Garrett said...

Hi Pat D. I haven't heard from you yet, and your copy of BELIEVE NO ONE is agitating to be sent back across the Pond (see what I did there?) ;) You can contact me via my website at www.adgarrett.com - and as soon as I gave your address I'll get it in the post (mail) - Oh, this is endless fun!