British vs American Terms Ready Reckoner

Some of the complaints I’ve heard around the internet about Fifty Shades of Grey aside from its juvenile writing style, poor word use and repetition of phrases is how un-American it feels. This is a complaint made by American readers in that they are finding it difficult to believe that this is set in their country. “Americans don’t talk like that” or “I’ve never heard an American use that word before!”

Fair enough. E.L. James is British and perhaps we might accuse the book of demonstrating poor research amongst its sins. I can’t comment, I haven’t read it and I won’t read it. This is a common trap to fall into and you need to go for authenticity on the finer points.

There language differences between British and American English are essential if you want an audience to be immersed in a world in which you do not live. Aside from the obvious spelling differences: colour/color, realise/realize, aluminium/aluminum, centre/center, fizzy drinks/soda, spelt/spelled there are a number other differences you need to be aware of if you are American writing a story set in Britain or if you are a Brit writing something set in the U.S.

Oxford dictionaries has given us quite a comprehensive list here. There’s plenty of them and a writer would do well to take note of these differences. Nothing screams louder than bad research and unfortunately, too many writers do it.

My favourites are these confusing terms
British Term: Waistcoat / American Term: Vest
British Term: Vest / American Term: Undershirt

There are also some issues over describing a person’s ethnicity. In the UK we use the term ‘Asian’ to mean a person whose background is the Indian subcontinent, nationalities that include: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Sri Lanka. In North America the same word is used for people of Far East descent: China, Japan, Korea etc. In Europe, we use “white” instead of “caucasian”, “Mediterranean” instead of “Hispanic” and though both use the term “black” – in Europe there is no hyphenated “Anglo-Caribbean” or “Franco-Senegalese”. It must be remembered that the majority black populations in both of our respective countries have different backgrounds. Whereas most American blacks are descended from the slaves who were brought straight from Africa, most blacks in the UK are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean in the 1950s (and so might not want to be referred to as African hyphenated anything).

But I went off on a tangent there. Does anybody have any other vital language differences? Can you think of any poor examples of a book set in one country where the author had little to no experience of it?

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5 thoughts on “British vs American Terms Ready Reckoner

  1. Hi procrastin8ted , though i know you are not that any more because you are up and running and winning too 🙂
    back to the Book.. I heard about it in a radio talk show and they were prising at a lot .. I was not aware of the contents at the time, hence I kept listening. a few female called and said that the book was the best thing can happen to a married woman ” apparently it give ideas on how to pick the relationship between a married couple” then there were a few men calling with the same type of comments. but later one a lady came on and spelled what really the book was about, I was shocked. though still kept listening.
    from what i gathered which you just agreed with me the book is a light porn fiction for women, it is cheap talk and do not suite a lady in style.
    I have not read it and like you have no interest in reading it.

    1. mgm75

      You’re right, seeing as I don’t procrastin8 any more I should consider changing the name of the blog.

      Had it been critically acclaimed I might have considered reading it but unfortunately most of te recommendations come from people who do not generally read books and so will not care about poor writing style (something that does grate on me). But, if it is rescuing people’s marriages then best of luck to them!

  2. On the notion of the name .I think that sometimes when we have something stare us in the face every day to remind us where we were and how far have we moved from that point is a good motivation, but that is my view.
    I have kept a few posts on my down time and every time I read them I feel and know how much blessing I have in my life.
    The book.. you have a point , though my view is there is a book for every person .. with this kind of books either written in a good writing style or not, it is not my book..
    but thank you for sharing about the book here 🙂

    1. mgm75

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      I’m currently going through some changes in life and this desire to get serious about my writing is one of them. I’ve been considering for weeks the possibility of changing this blog’s name and I will probably do it soon (maybe even another theme alteration too)

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