I’ve been beavering away on my the current edit of my novel, The Range, in particular making my American character’s dialogue sound as authentic as possible. As a result I’ve become quite fascinated by Americanisms and how they translate into UK English.
Most UK folk will probably know the common stuff – side walk for pavement, garbage for rubbish, closet for wardrobe and so on, and I’m delighted to keep discovering new stuff. Some might argue that the UK English language is being eroded by Americanisms but I disagree. I prefer to think of it as a merging of one language separated by two countries then brought back together again.
As with any language regional dialects, certain phrases, euphemisms and pronunciations can vary a great deal even within a relatively small geographical area.
In terms of where my American character hails from, well, he has lived in the UK, but spent some time living in the US, no specific place so I’ve been looking for generic Americanisms rather than specific colloquialisms. So whilst my Yankee Doodle Dandy chap does say “rubbish” instead of “garbage” there’s still a twang of American accent in his voice.
So why is he from the US?
At times I wonder if I’ve made this too difficult for myself, and why isn’t he simply from somewhere I know like Manchester or London? The original concept for the story included a plot bigger than I cared to fit into one novel. As a result the sequel to The Range is called The Survivors, of which I’ve written 45,000 words of an unfinished first draft. And the the final part is called The Retreat, nothing written on that as yet, only notes and basic plot outline.
I wanted this character to be from somewhere else other than the UK. He could come from anywhere but when I came up with the idea it felt easier to write dialogue in English instead of struggling to write with, say, a French, Spanish or Chinese accent. Easier my arse.
Researching the American Accent.
I watch all manner of US TV, Friends, Lost, Desperate Housewives, 24, Flash Forward (tragic) not to mention The Simpsons and Family Guy or indeed movies. The funny thing is that I never really take much notice of accents. The actors speak, the story unfolds, I go along with it. The times when I do notice the American accent is when an English actor joins the cast, like Helen Baxendale in Friends.
A couple of my beta readers told me the American accent didn’t come across. I know why too. I was so intent on moving the story along I didn’t pay much attention to the actual words and phrases he used that should have identified him as American. Before starting on my current draft I paid a great deal of time listening to American accents on TV shows and movies. Reading fiction has helped but it requires that I read everything twice.
I don’t read a book once then start again. Instead I enjoy it as a reader, but at the back of my mind my inner writer is sat on his comfy bean bag taking notes. Sometimes he forgets as he’s enjoying the story as much as I am. So I give him a prod and he gets back to work, picking out those little words, inflections, mannerisms etc.
I hope I’ve made good progress with my American characters dialogue but until actual American readers read the story I can’t be entirely sure. I’m not sure if it’s right to assume an editor of a publishing company will pick up on whether it reads as authentic or not. I’d hope so. Until that day comes I’ll keep rubbing away the sharp edges to get it right.
Keeping track of Americanisms.
As I trawl through the internet I come across sites with lots of Americanisms. I bookmark them for future reference. This is very handy for translating UK English into American English, but after a while it became a chore to constantly look up words. So I designed my own little dictionary instead. And so to the purpose of today’s post, to share some of my findings with you, dear blog reader, so you can check out the differences for yourself.
I’m keen to know if there are any mistakes in this list. Let me know if you spot anything wrong or have any of your own Americanisms that would be useful in helping define my characters dialogue.
|Arse – also known as Bottom, Bum, Backside.||Ass – or Glutes if you happen to be in a gym environment.|
|Boot – back bit of a car.||Trunk.|
|Bonnet – front bit of a car.||Hood.|
|Cinema.||Movie House or Movies.|
|Chips – in the UK these are thicker versions of the French Fry.||Fries – I’ve heard that Steak Fries are what Americans have with steak or other meat dishes.|
|CV – Curriculum Vitae.||Resume – although this is more a condensed version of the CV, which I understand Americans do use but it’s more a detailed thing and can run over more than one page.|
|Estate Agent.||Realtor or Real Estate Agent. Often makes me wonder why it has to be “Real” and where the “Fake” Estate Agents are!|
|Film.||Movie – personally I think the word “Film” to be kinda dated and much prefer “Movie.”|
|Flat – A residence in a block, all on one level. The UK use of this doesn’t give the same visual reference as the generic American wide open apartment as seen on US sitcoms etc.||Apartment – I’ve heard that if you tell an American you live in a flat, they’ll ask: “A flat what?”|
|Garage – this is often used to describe both a fuel station and a place to park your car at night.||Gas Station – not sure what the American version of a place to park a car. Driveway? Parking Space? Car Hole?|
|Ground Floor – in the UK this means the one at street level. Mostly.||First Floor – I’m given to understand that this can also mean Ground Floor. I’m confused.|
|Holiday.||Vacation – Americans use the term “Holiday” to describe a special day, and “Vacation” for a period of happy fun time away from work etc.|
|Lorry – both of these are used in the UK, though a Lorry is usually for a bigger vehicle with a longer wheel base.||Truck.|
|Loo or Toilet. Also known as Bog, Crapper, Shittter, Pisser.||Restroom – Apparently Americans consider a Loo as the actual thing you sit on rather than a room. I personally like “John” and “Head” though I’m not sure if these are regional words.|
|Minced Beef.||Ground Beef.|
|Petrol.||Gas – shortened version of Gasoline. Gas in the UK is stored in bottles like Propane.|
|Pissed – drunk, hammered, shit-faced, mullered, wankered.||Angry – or “Pissed off” but I’m not sure an American would add the word “off.”|
|Pub.||Bar – though in the UK we have both. Pubs are more traditional olde English types and bars are trendy places, sports theme bar for example.|
|Roundabout.||Traffic Island – though I get the feeling the US doesn’t have many of these, whereas in the UK they’re everywhere.|
|Rubbish – in the UK you might also hear the word “Garbage” but not in the same sense: “My printer keeps churning out garbage.”||Garbage.|
|Rubber.||Eraser – the UK “Rubber” also means condom as in “Rubber up!”|
|Shop.||Store – Americans tend to shop in stores whereas in the UK we just shop.|
|Silencer – on a car or motorcycle, or on a gun perhaps.||Muffler.|
|Solicitor.||Lawyer/Attorney – in the UK a solicitor can also mean those annoying idiots who try and sell you junk on your doorstep.|
|Sweets – sweeties, confectionery, chocolate etc.||Candy – not sure if this describes all sweet tasty treats or just those without chocolate, like Jelly Beans.|
|Tap.||Faucet – I think this is right. I guess Americans would say tap water not faucet water, so it describes the object more than the usage of it.|
|Trousers.||Pants – this is often quite hilarious to UK folk as the English version of this refers to underwear eg: Boxer shorts.|
- U.K. vs American English (ghostofawriter.wordpress.com)