After more than 15 years as a journalist writing for both British and American publications, I’ve become adept at keeping my British- and American-English feature pieces strictly separated. I’ve learnt how to do this to keep editors on both sides of the Atlantic happy. But, wait a minute. Maybe I learned how to do this to keep editors happy? (Discuss, if you feel like it.)
From the beginning my book, Falling Through Clouds, was going to be an American story; I may be a Brit, but it was clear from the beginning that this would be an American story, told in an American idiom…it is set in Minnesota. How a British guy/bloke came to write this story of a family in the Midwest is for another post. But still, when the idea presented itself, I leapt at the chance. I’m not sure I could have leaped at the chance. I might have ripped by trousers. Still, it’s not just a matter of spelling. There are fundamental differences in the meaning of words, as one sharp-eyed proofreader found in a fairly late edit of the book:
Uh oh. Somehow the British version of “windscreen” had been missed during the copy editing process. The American version of this word is, as corrected in blue pencil, “windshield.” But, surely that wouldn’t have mattered, would it? I mentioned this to a couple of American friends and they said, “Yes, I have no idea what a windscreen is. Is it something you attach to a window. I would not have known.” For British readers, windows on American houses often are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitoes and other large, troublesome insects flying in.
I have no problem keeping my American-English separate and discrete. For example, I talk about a “lead-colored lake,” a “slate-gray sky,” and “favorite bottles” of wine in the book, but then I wondered if I’d unknowingly inserted other exclusively British words into this American text. There it was, in draft one, a sheriff who’d “learnt” the news about an accident. Little did he know. Even now, that word is sitting there in draft with a red line underneath reprimanding me for the apparent error. Oh the tyranny of spell check for the Anglo-American scribe.