Home > Columns > Quarter Days by Alina K. Field > Happy Fall… Or is it autumn?!

A Quarter Days’ Post

Greetings! I’m back for my quarterly post about various and sundry things related to writing historical fiction.

In my last post I talked about the delights of playing with words and creating Tom Swifties.

Today I’m talking about the difference between English and English, as in American vs. British.

Is it fall? Or is it autumn? More on that later.

What’s in your tool kit? 

Words are the building blocks we writers and speakers use to create story. We start hoarding those blocks early, and the resulting vocabulary says much about our own personal settings—where we grew up, what our social milieu is, what our family is like.

A case in point—my grandkids’ first words. We waited with bated breath for each munchkin’s first spoken vocabulary word. I coached them repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to say “mama”.

But for both of them the first word was… DOG! (Yes, we do love our dogs.)

Fledgling writers

are taught “write what you know”. I wonder why? It’s a lot more fun to step outside the known world. But it does lead to challenges.

The biggest challenge: You don’t know what you don’t know

For a 21st century American like me trying to set a story in Georgian England, there are a million opportunities to err.

First there’s the issue of etymology. Was a word used during this story’s time period?

A couple of examples from a Regency first draft I was beta reading for a friend:

  • Hooligan: a great word, right? Unfortunately it dates to the 1890s.
  • Foyer: Sadly, this dates to 1859.

And a couple from my own first drafts:

  • Merry Widow: as my editor pointed out, this phrase references Franz Lehar’s operetta’s English title from 1907. Just a tad later than the Regency!!!
  • Shack: Not only is this a later word (1878) but it’s of American or Canadian origin.

Which brings up another potential pitfall for the fledgling Regency Romance author.

American vs. British

Americans and Brits may speak the same language, but we use different words.

I’m fortunate to work often with an editor in England, and so I’ve compiled my own list of Americanisms for my own pre-editing purging.

Some more examples:

This very funny post from a British writer complete with illustrations.

And a list of 60 American English words translated into British English.

Spelling and punctuation are different too.

Once, long ago, while reading one of Georgette Heyer’s books, I wondered why they kept writing “cosy” instead of “cozy”. Why had so many misspellings slipped past the editor?

The British spelling was different enough to make it a jarring read for this ignorant and unaware American who happens to be a good speller. Fortunately, I’m wise to them now.

There are also punctuation differences. Here’s a short post about some of those.  

And a long one about spelling differences.

I don’t believe Regency readers will pillory an author over this issue, so I’ve settled on using American spelling and punctuation in my stories.

One might say, in this area at least, I’m writing what I know!

Do you suppose we’ll ever go “one-world” on the spelling and punctuation rules?

Happy fall (and autumn) to everyone, and I’ll be back in December!

Images credits: autumn leaves and dog are from Stencil (I’d happily claim that dog though!); image of words is from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Author Bio
Author Bio
Award winning author Alina K. Field earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and German literature, but prefers the much happier world of romance fiction. Though her roots are in the Midwestern U.S., after six very, very, very cold years in Chicago, she moved to Southern California and hasn’t looked back. She shares a midcentury home with her husband, her spunky, blonde, rescued terrier, and the blue-eyed cat who conned his way in for dinner one day and decided the food was too good to leave. She is the author of several Regency romances, including the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best winner, Rosalyn’s Ring. She is hard at work on her next series of historical romances, but loves to hear from readers!
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Award winning author Alina K. Field earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English and German literature, but prefers the much happier world of romance fiction. Though her roots are in the Midwestern U.S., after six very, very, very cold years in Chicago, she moved to Southern California and hasn’t looked back. She shares a midcentury home with her husband, her spunky, blonde, rescued terrier, and the blue-eyed cat who conned his way in for dinner one day and decided the food was too good to leave. She is the author of several Regency romances, including the 2014 Book Buyer’s Best winner, Rosalyn’s Ring. She is hard at work on her next series of historical romances, but loves to hear from readers!
  • Marianne says:

    I get occasional recipes from the BBC. The instructions are hysterical. My favorite was to give the ingredients a “wiz.”

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