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Language rant. - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Language rant.
Oops, I finally snapped on Brit-picking, after a fanficrants rant. I guess I'm not really sorry about that.

I'm happy to take it in first draft--in fact, I greedily seek it. But damn--people put so much emphasis on Brit-picking that you'd think Harry vs. Voldemort was a minor skirmish in the great Mom vs. Mum debate! It's great to get setting details right, but next to plot, theme, characterization, and everything else that goes into a story, why in the world do we make such a huge damned fuss about whether or not English people eat waffles for breakfast, if such a thing is mentioned in passing for less than half a sentence?

And as to the American writers who disdainfully declare our spellings and usage "incorrect," give it up. English is English. Our form and their form originated at the same time--granted, both in England--and was spoken by English-speaking peoples. Ours migrated across an ocean. Our accents are no less valid than are accents from Leicestershire or Kent. Our spelling is no less valid. All it means if you spell "favor" instead of "favour" is that you were born here, something you have no need to apologize for, or put on airs to cover up the deep shame of. And since that is not a character voice--it's nothing more than an arbitrary authorial choice--there is never a good reason for an American writer to use it, regardless of the setting. You can write in Middle Earth, but you are not J.R.R. Tolkien. You can write at Hogwarts, but you are not J.K. Rowling. If you're born in York, England, you use "flavour." If you're born in York, New York, you use "flavor." One is not right while the other is wrong.

(And yes, of course that goes the other way. A British writer would have Xander do a favour for Buffy, no matter where the two characters happened to be hanging out.)

Sorry. That just... AAAARGH.

EDIT: Just to clarify--I'm not saying that American writers should ignore the concept of getting the setting details right. Of course we should. I'm just sick of the smackdowns over relatively minor infractions, especially when no comment is made about major points in the fic!
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liwy From: liwy Date: June 17th, 2005 12:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Don't you mean "Our accents are..."?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 17th, 2005 12:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Good point.
h311ybean From: h311ybean Date: June 17th, 2005 12:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Given the relative ease with which goods from the US can find their way onto British shelves, I'm not one to quibble over whether Molly can serve waffles at the Burrow. [/econrrrd moment] I am also not a stickler for British vs. American spelling - I agree with what you've said about that.

I have to admit, though, that it's the slang terms I have a problem with, whether in dialogue or in a narrative that is clearly from a character's point of view :( However, I'm training myself not to worry about it too much. I'm not the foremost authority on British slang, anyway. And I'm not American, either! :-p
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 17th, 2005 12:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm not saying that the setting details like slang should be ignored--of course, you should try to get it right; that's a given--only that I'm sick of such a fuss being made out of, "Oh me, oh my, how could they have Harry see a movie???" For heaven's sake, if you're going to latch onto something that minor, at least have the decency to comment on little matters like the plot and theme first.
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imadra_blue From: imadra_blue Date: June 17th, 2005 12:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. I completely agree with you. I love a good Brit-picking, and purposefully get British/European betas to help me with that. But I'm also sick to death of people telling me in a discussion about meta/characterization that "oh, you're a Yank, you would think of it like that."

I understand there's culterual differences between America and Britain, and I may not know everyone of them, but I have my own perception, American as it may be, on how I feel and what I thought about a scene in book. You will either accept it or you will not, but don't dare to tell me it's wrong just because I'm an American -- can't you disagree with me on a more intellectual basis like "oh, well, I sarry as such and such"? I don't care if you don't like the American government, I don't like it either, that doesn't make me rude, obnoxious, a bully, or stupid. if I am any of those things it has nothing to do with being an American. Tolerance goes both ways and if you expect all the Americans to tolerate you and your beliefs, you must also tolerate ours. Harry Potter is British. The fandom is multi-cultural. And if your biggest complaint in my story is that I made mention of a sidewalk and used the word "gotten" then I say, "thank you," because that's not a big deal to me at the end. :/

And apparently I needed to get that off my chest, too. >.>
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 17th, 2005 12:29 am (UTC) (Link)
And a lot of language-use peeves aren't even really American/British. Harry speaks a particular way (which happens to be British, among other things), and if you get the cadence right, most of it is going to be British, with odd exceptions if you don't happen to know them. If Harry's running around saying, "Yo, Dude, foshizzle my nizzle," then there are bigger problems in the fic than an Americanism!
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 17th, 2005 12:24 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm totally American but use a lot of British spellings on and off; favour instead of favor, stuff like that. It's not a statement about linguistic legitimacy, though - it's the result of 90% of the childhood books I owned being printed in Great Britain. Every now and then I try to get out of it but then start forgetting and random British spellings begin to pop up again. But it would never occur to me to Britpick American/British spellings, for God's sake! I mean, it's not like the characters can see the words coming out of their mouths. (Or are thinking "Damn, now that the narrator has said "The sky was a strange color" instead of "The sky was a strange colour" I feel SO OOC.")
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 17th, 2005 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
(Or are thinking "Damn, now that the narrator has said "The sky was a strange color" instead of "The sky was a strange colour" I feel SO OOC.")


Yes, after doing that little rant, I have to cop to a Tolkien-precipitated inability to look at the word "traveling" without thinking that it's missing an "l," though I try for due diligence. But I grew up on the Canadian border, and an early spelling lesson was based on ask my mother "Why do they spell color with a 'u'?"
chocolatepot From: chocolatepot Date: June 17th, 2005 12:29 am (UTC) (Link)
I generally just aim (in my infrequent fics) for not using American slang. I've been betaing for a British writer for at least a year now (nearly two full Schnoogle fics), so I've picked up quite a bit more than many--enough that I could probably use things like "doing my head in" and "was sat" properly.

But I don't think that everyone should. There are loads of people, I'm sure, who have read only the American versions (the lazy louts... :) ) and haven't read Louise Rennison and her wonderful glossaries; they can't be expected to be able to catch the slang, and maybe even the spelling. Spellings are not going to trip me up--poor characterization is.

Well, I might raise an eyebrow at "mom". But only that. :)
darreldoomvomit From: darreldoomvomit Date: June 17th, 2005 12:41 am (UTC) (Link)
The mom thing, I'm canadian, and my friends and I came to the consensus that while we say mum, we usually spell mom. So mom doesn't bother me at all, because in my head either way is mum.
From: sleepingfingers Date: June 17th, 2005 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the post. Sometimes (though not often), the intensity of Brit-picking in HP is almost offensive towards American writers who are trying their best to learn what they can of British English and incorporate those into their fics (an example, as you've pointed out in comment over at fanficrants, being the Quill's All Things British thread). I do really appreciate my British beta-readers and reviewers pointing out things that I don't know are blatant Americanism; if I could give them hugs for doing those things, I would. However, as with many American writers, despite trying my best, some Americanisms are still bound to slip through; after all, I can't learn all the British phrases and vocabularies that differ from American. I agree with you that sometimes the Brit-picking can be rather annoying, especially after the writers and their beta-readers have tried their best.
kelleypen From: kelleypen Date: June 17th, 2005 01:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Now I've got to step on my English teacher soap box

Thank you. English was one language with very few rules for many centuries. It just kept growing and changing and people tried to adapt their writing and spelling to what they heard and saw. Then in the 1800's the grammarians and the spelling gurus applied a series of rules to the English. One set of rules went to the English that was being used in the British Empire--as seen in books such as the OED and another set was applied to the English used across the pond in America--as seen in books such as Webster's Dictionary. Hence, two Englishes. Both are correct, as the prescriptivists were conforming the language to the rules almost simultaneously. Professor Higgins aside, American English and British English are together the lingua franca of the world--for the time being anyway. Spanish or Chinese may be next; who knows? I'm tired of focusing on what divides us and what is superior about one or inferior about the other. When we focus too much energy on Brit picking, we really miss out on some wonderful characterization and plotlines or opportunity for constructive criticism.
From: hobviously Date: June 17th, 2005 01:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I have never been harshly Britpicked myself, but I agree that if minor things like that are the target of huge reader ire, that's just ridiculous. The only time I am really critical of which system to use is when it's in my own writing. Like somebody else in this thread, I grew up reading British and Canadian lit and have always, always, naturally found myself using the British U and the double L and son on. Recently it's bugged me that I use the British spelling for some words and not others, so I've been trying to be uniform with my Britglish, but I start to feel pretty stupid when I have to go back through whatever I was writing and replace my Zs with Ses. It's annoying, and distressing, because I really don't want to be inconsistent, but I also just plain don't feel right with the American spelling of words like "neighbor."

So. I don't know what to do, really.
ashavah From: ashavah Date: June 17th, 2005 03:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a pain. I'm Australian, and here either can be used. Sometimes I find myself not knowing if something is British or American ... I always use the 'u' and the 's' instead of 'z', but I write 'travelling' and 'focusing', despite trying to be consistent. And as for 'judgement'/'judgment' ... eek!



From: magnolia_mama Date: June 17th, 2005 01:16 am (UTC) (Link)
And since that is not a character voice--it's nothing more than an arbitrary authorial choice--there is never a good reason for an American writer to use it, regardless of the setting.

Praise the Lord, Amen. I had a story rejected by a Sycophant Hex archive several months ago because I used Britspeak but not British spelling. I refused to fix it to their satisfaction because, dammit, I'm an American, and while I value the necessity of having my characters speak like they're British, the spelling I use, so long as it follows conventional guidelines and norms, has absolutely no bearing on the story I'm trying to tell.
leelastarsky From: leelastarsky Date: June 17th, 2005 01:24 am (UTC) (Link)
US spelling doesn't worry me when reading a HP fic, but Americanisms like Mom or butt or ass will throw me out of a fic every time.

It doesn't help that the books were Americanised for you guys. When you read them the characters use American terms, so I imagine it would be doubly hard to write them without.

What is even harder (and often more amusing) to read is when American writers try to use British colloquialisms but end up using them completely out of context!

eg: I happened across a work by a VERY BNF and, not having read any of her work before, read a couple of paragraphs... and there was this line where Ginny says: "Hermione, are you starkers?!"

In the context of the scene, I understood that the author had meant something along the lines of 'stark raving mad' but to say someone is 'starkers' means they are naked! So, yeah, I just about spit my coke at the screen laughing and didn't bother reading any further.

'Loo' is another one I often see used inappropriately. ;~P

I think the moral of the story is that, unless you know how to use the slang correctly, avoid it.
ninepointfivemm From: ninepointfivemm Date: June 17th, 2005 03:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Gahaha, my MOM uses "starkers," and we're American. Loopy one, that writer.
amelia_eve From: amelia_eve Date: June 17th, 2005 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
My original fandom background is mostly mysteries, and there is a strange world of North American authors who set their books in the UK. (Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George are two of the most prominent.) Sometimes I feel as though they are trying to cram their writing with so much authenticity that it seems like they add Brit-speak terms on purpose. It's like a contest to get the most terms into a single scene.

She shut off the cooker and filled the rucksack with the freshly baked biscuits, then packed it in the boot with the pram before heading off for the motorway.

I used to copy edit for international publications, so I'll follow whatever style I'm given. The British definitely prefer double consonants before "-ing" in most cases where Americans would use just one. There are some other little tricky bits for which the persistent editor must dive deep into Folwer's Modern English Usage. Someday I hope to use the term "Wardour Street" off-handedly and correctly.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: June 17th, 2005 06:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh God, Elizabeth George. I have friends who are big fans of hers but I could never really get into her books because every page seemed to be competing with all the others for Most Times Lower-Class Character Says "Luv" Or Some Such or Most Times High-Class Character Is Both Impossibly Beautiful And Uses Arcane Briticisms. It just drove me nuts, and I've spent all of six weeks in Great Britain. But damn it, I've read lots of mysteries by British writers and their characters never went on like that. I was gently introduced into the world where automobiles had boots and bonnets and braces were worn over the shirt and not the teeth.

(OK, part of it is that in one of the books I read George decided to have two really overdrawn American tourists as comic-relief boors. Nothing *inherently* wrong with it, but for some reason it really smacked of "See? I'm really not one of them!" which was just annoying).

gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: June 17th, 2005 02:27 am (UTC) (Link)
My Beta at Phoenix Song is British and it never occurred to me to be bothered, offended, whatever when she corrected my spelling of "color" to "colour" any more than if she had changed "panties" to "knickers" or "sweater" to "jumper." My spellchecker may have a conniption at the "ou" -- but my American Heritage dictionary says both are acceptable (though what American regularly uses "colour" I'll never know). If she feels a part of her Brit-picking job is to encourage the preferred British spelling of words, I'm agreeable to that; it doesn't change the meaning, after all. Reviewers who pick on that, on the other hand, are a bit overzealous. Unless, of course, you are inconsistant. If I use "color" in paragraph one and "colour" in paragraph eight, then I'm in trouble -- but that's not so much a Brit-pick as an editing gaffe in general.

Now I suppose I'm just kowtowing to Her Majesty, the queen and didn't our forefathers fight a war so I wouldn't have to.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 17th, 2005 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Now I suppose I'm just kowtowing to Her Majesty, the queen and didn't our forefathers fight a war so I wouldn't have to.

Bingo. Philosophically, I say absolutely--refuse to change American spellings as a point of honor. Not honour. ;)
meneathiel From: meneathiel Date: June 17th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC) (Link)
If English is English why then do they refer to it as American versus British spelling? Maybe I could also ask, because I have always wondered and you are safe :). Do you know why there is an American version of the books? Maybe that was what began the fandom kerfluffle because it just seems lame as heck to me so I imagine if I was British it would be even more strange.

As a Canuck I am very used to both but I do find some usage jarring. For instance, when I hear any of the adults use the word reckon or even right as in right comfortable I cringe. One of my favourite authors used that in a fic and in my printed copy I had to fixed it because for me it was just wrong, wrong, wrong. The fic was excellent though, apart from that, so it would never occur to me to say anything. The only person I have ever heard use reckon is a good friend who is a Texan although, for all I know, it is in fact a common expression in the UK. Mum/Mom is also jarring but then I actually use Mum not Mom myself so I notice that.

To be fair the other fandom that did this fighting, that I noticed, was XF. It drove me just as nuts when Mulder spoke with British terms BUT in his case at least he had gone to Oxford so you could imagine some expressions could have followed him back. I could easily accept Mulder being *colour* blind but not him saying the *colour* of ..... But then I use *dang* and I have, at most, spent 6 weeks in Texas in the last 10 years so what do I know ;).

I do wonder why someone wouldn't want to write a fic using as much of the flavour *wink* of the original setting and language. Snape is British and he lives in Britain. Part of his very appeal to me is his *British-ness* so please don't pull me out of the story if you can help it. You try to be as IC as you can so let the narrative voice and setting be as close as well. JMHO. You know it is, in the end, the choice of both parties the Author gets to choose how to write and I get to choose whether or not to read.

I see the Britpickers PoV but as much as they get carried away I find the defensiveness of the writers over the Britpicking, unless it is being done (the brit picking) for meanness alone, just as odd. Bottom line... attacking fics just to point out the differences and try and belittle the author for his/her location on the globe is just being stupid and petty and those people really need to get a life. If you don't like the way an author writes something the back button is right up there, move on and leave the author alone.

Fairness insists I say that just as I object to Snape saying okay or yeah to a student I get tired of all the 'so I went to the shop, *yeah*' as well.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 17th, 2005 03:21 am (UTC) (Link)
If English is English why then do they refer to it as American versus British spelling?

Well, technically, it's British English and American English--both English; the distinction is just based on where it's spoken.
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author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: June 17th, 2005 04:14 am (UTC) (Link)
There's huge differences between obvious and not so obvious, if you ask me. The obvious stuff, okay, that's annoying; but when its not obvious, people deserve some layway.
mysticblueside From: mysticblueside Date: June 17th, 2005 04:58 am (UTC) (Link)
Major AMEN! ;)
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