Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Two nations divided …

English and American English. ‘Two nations divided by a common language’ is a saying attributed variously to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill and is spot-on whoever said it.

I think it’s a shame that American publishers apparently insist on Amercanising books published in the UK for their home market, thus changing pavement to sidewalk, petrol to gas and so on. Part of the pleasure for me when reading a book set in America (or Canada or Australia come to that) is learning the different words they use – it’s never difficult from the context to work out the meaning and it keeps you right there in the story, in the place.

The other week (there is a train of thought here) I was given a present by Amazon – yes, you read that right. For some reason I was invited to choose a free e-book from a choice of six.

I’d heard of Nora Roberts ('America's favorite author' according to the New York Times) but had never read any of her 200+ books – she writes one every 45 days apparently, romance under her own name and futuristic police procedurals under the name JD Robb. Over three hundred million of her books are in print.

So, hoping that some of her magic dust would settle on me, I chose The Next Always, the first novel in her Inn at BoonsBoro trilogy.

It isn’t the most riveting read I have to say (I’m 80% through). I like the rather old-fashioned beginning – a potted history of the two-hundred-year-old inn. The romance between Clare and Beckett – she a young Iraq-war-widowed mother of three, he a local businessman/master-of-all-trades who’s loved her from afar since they were 15 – is a satisfying one. But the rest of the story is taken up mostly by the restoration of the ‘inn at BoonsBoro’. While I usually love descriptions of houses in books, the endless conversations here about plumbing, electrics, carpentry, colour of tiles, carpets etc etc become very tedious.

It’s probably not representative of Nora Roberts’ books (I will give her the benefit of the doubt and read another one, although not the rest of this trilogy) as I found out from an interview with her that she actually lives in a small town called Boonsboro in rural Maryland – where she has been renovating an old inn …

So I guess the writerly advice I would take from that is that no experience is wasted – even if the end result in this instance does read like an interior design guide with a steamy romance thrown in.

As for the Americanisms – I’ll forgive, even if I don’t like, gotten, since I heard last week on a Michael Rosen radio programme that it is an ancient past participle of the verb to get, and not as I had ignorantly thought a modern aberration (dove instead of dived is another one). But not coworker pleeeease – what are hyphens for?

Pants instead of trousers is always good for a schoolgirl giggle. I like grocery store instead of supermarket. Snuck instead of sneaked is kinda cute. Faucet seems to have nothing to do with tap –  a google tells me, it too is Middle English, from Old French fausset, cask stopper.

But there were two words that stopped me in my tracks in this book: acclimate instead of acclimatise, and assist used as a noun – ‘do you need an assist?’.

Do you think they’ll catch on this side of the Pond?


  1. I agree with your words! I have been known to change a whole sentence so I don't have to use it.
    Nora Roberts writes lots of different 'types' of books, But I've seen reviews saying some of the new ones are new names new places same story of her older ones. I have no idea if it's true. I liked The Witness, and The Quinn books

  2. Bound to, Kate. Kids thin k American-speak is cool. I get more upset by the aberrations perpetrated by journalists and radio/tv presenters over here who, since (theoretically) they're supposed to be communicators and should know better.

  3. Raven - I was hoping for a Nora Roberts recommendation, thank you.

  4. Bill - my son (currently living in RI) was heard to say 'the trash' rather than rubbish the last time he was home. The slippery slope ...

  5. I've taken to pronouncing 'coworker' as 'cow-orker' in my head, and, sometimes, in real life too. It gets the message over, I think...

  6. Ha! Have never had the opportunity to use coworker in conversation but, like you, cow-orker is what I see when I read it.

  7. Two Americanisms which drive me mad are using bring, when they really mean take, and visiting with someone, rather than just visiting them.

    I may have to try out one of Nora's books now, too.

  8. Thanks for commenting, Amanda. I don't like 'envision' - but I rather like 'raising' children rather than bringing them up.
    I will give Nora another try - all those readers can't be wrong!

    1. Interesting post, as always, Kate.
      I like Monday through Friday rather than Monday to Friday. but I loathe How Fun!!!
      Mr Bill, couldn't agree more

  9. Interesting to read what you thought of Nora Roberts, Kate. I almost chose a free Nora Roberts from Amazon, too, as, like you, I've never read her before. In the end I chose a novel by Adele Parks, which is still waiting for me on my Kindle.
    I don't normally mind Americanisms. I love the way language in Britain assimilates others and evolves so rapidly. There are some phrases, though, that for some reason get my goat. "Can I get..?" instead of "Please may/can I have..?" Everyone uses "get" now, and I think that one's here to stay, sadly!
    After your impression of The Next Always perhaps I'll start with a different Nora Roberts as my first. Thanks for the interesting post.

  10. Thank you, Eileen. Yes, Monday through Friday makes sense. Haven't heard How fun! Useful to know these things if you have an American character in your own work.

  11. Helena - how the same language has evolved on the different side of the Atlantic is interesting I think. What I do love are American place names - eg 'rural Maryland' where the NR trilogy is set. Let me know if you find a NR you recommend.