US English versus British English that is.

One of the things I like about editing for an epublisher is that we have authors from other countries (Canada, Australia and England most notably). I love working on the Australian authors’ books especially, because I learn new phrases and different words that they use with every book. And even different cooking terms 😉

Some notable examples I’ve come across recently during edits (British or Australian version first, US meaning second):
Suspenders = Garters
Carrier bags = Shopping bags
fags = cigarettes
holiday = vacation
lumbered = dumped or burdened
grill = broiler
pumpkin = squash
stripped off = stripped
throw rug = throw blanket (in the US a throw rug is a small floor covering)
doona = blanket for the bed
moggie = cat
ladder in my stockings = run in my hose
ring you up/why didn’t she ring = place a phone call
have a lie-in = sleep in
slanging match = name-calling

I love learning these differences in the language, and I’ve learned some fascinating phrases. Usually, I can work out what they are because of the context. We try to preserve the “flavor” of the author’s voice as much as possible, while keeping in mind that the bulk of our readers are in the US, so I don’t ask the author to change a word or phrase unless I think there’s going to be a misunderstanding (ie, because pumpkin, fags and suspenders have rather dramatically different meanings here in the US, I ask for things like that to be changed) or if I just can’t tell what it means so have to assume the reader won’t either

But yesterday it was with one of our editors who lives in England that I had some translation problems. After multiple emails, we got it sorted out, but it turns out what I perceived as a typo in a letter she was sending out, was actually a common usage on her side of the ocean.

She was typing “I attach the edits to this email” and I kept saying, “you have a typo in the first line of your letter!” She wasn’t seeing it so I finally realized it must be a difference in British/US usage and explained:

I attach is present tense, meaning you’re doing it right now. We would type “I’ve attached” or “I have attached” because it’s past tense, letting the person know that we attached it prior to sending.

She sent this back:

It may be a British thing, cos I’ve often seen it that way. And I’m pretty sure it’s always intended to be present tense – ‘This is the email. I attach this document to it’. We also use ‘I enclose’ or ‘I include’ with a letter, for instance – would those be incorrect in US English too?

The answer is yes, someone in the US receiving that would see it as a typo! I think it’s a good lesson to both editors and readers, that what we think is a typo might be intentional and to keep in mind that “our” way isn’t necessarily the only way and it’s only “right” for us, not always for someone else!

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