So… understanding the different dialects of English, like US, Canadian, Australian, and UK English, is like this quote:
Knowledge consists of knowing that a tomato is a fruit, and wisdom consists of not putting it in a fruit salad.
― Miles Kington
I went searching for this quote because I wanted to talk about the wisdom of hiring an editor who knows the differences between different dialects of English. Whether your editor has travelled (or traveled) extensively, enjoys shows from the BBC as much as either ABC, or loves reading material from both sides of the pond, it is a valuable asset to recognize the nuances between the various forms of English.
While checking the internet for the exact wording of the quote, I found—to my surprise—that tomato fruit salad seems to be an actual thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked due to my recent successful watermelon gazpacho, but now I’m debating the merits of basil orange vinaigrette. Fortunately, tomato fruit salad is going to allow me to take my editing analogy to a whole new level.
So far, we have the following:
- Knowledge – tomato is a fruit
- Wisdom – tomato is savory and shouldn’t go in a fruit salad
- Art – using the above information to determine that tomato can work in a fruit salad and elevates the flavor in a way not previously considered
So, MC, when on earth are you going to get to the editing and writing stuff?
Well, here is my version:
- Knowledge – dreamt is a word
- Wisdom – dreamt is UK English and shouldn’t go in a US publication
- Art – using the above information to determine that dreamt can work in a US publication and elevates the meaning in a way not previously considered
Do you like what I did there? I’m pretty impressed with myself.
Because I know some of you will jump on me about coming here for a list of US vs UK English, I’ll do one more…
Grey is better than gray! Even outside of UK English
I know a lot of Americans who just think grey looks sweeter to the eye. (I may be one of them…) Since spellcheck doesn’t pick up either of them in Canadian, US, or UK English (it does pick up gray on Australian), then you might have no idea that one is more prevalent in one dialect over another. If you are sticking strictly to a style guide, however, you need to know that gray is the US spelling and grey is more prevalent in Canadian and UK English. Canada—wise choice, my friends. And the Aussies win because somehow their spellcheck works on that one!
If there are a million lists online of differences between US and UK English, why does it matter if your editor knows various dialects? Why not hire just anyone native to whatever you plan to publish in?
Well, first of all, have you ever written a story like Greg Alldredge’s Ostinato Series where a Brit ends up in America? Do you really want your editor to flag every “shite” and “tosser”?! Or are you ok with your British character being inauthentic?
Second of all, sure there are lists that can tell the American public what jumper, mate, petrol, boot, and ta mean. But do you want your editor relying on a list to get the little things right? Even if it is this self-proclaimed comprehensive list of spelling differences!
Trust me, after listening to a DJ on the radio in Australia clearly not get what the G’s being flashed in “Hot in Herre” by Nelly were (hint: not the same as Sisqó’s “Thong Song”), I realized something important. Understanding another person’s culture just helps you understand them better, and that definitely includes their vocabulary. (And seriously, I would love to flash some G’s in the US, but not in Australia…)
So you see, having a culturally aware editor means that a beautiful element of your story can remain, rather than just being struck down by the magical red pen.
If your editor doesn’t really know what you are saying, how can they help you say it better?
If you have an amusing story about mixing up English dialects, let me know in the comments below!