by John M. Floyd
As I mentioned in my column about Ian Fleming a few weeks ago, I've been re-reading all the James Bond novels, in order. That project has reminded me not only of my youth (I devoured all fourteen Bond books when I was in high school) but of the differences in writing style between American authors and British authors. To the British--at least in the 50s and early 60s, when the Bond novels and short-story collections were published--trucks are lorries, flashlights are torches, elevators are lifts, etc. But I had forgotten that there are so many differences.
The following is a quick list I jotted down last week (American usage first, British usage next):
apartment -- flat
gas -- petrol
French fries -- chips
chips -- crisps
hood (of a car) -- bonnet
group -- lot
bathroom -- loo
pants -- trousers
panties -- pants
guy -- chap
trunk -- boot
soccer -- football
trash -- rubbish
cookie -- biscuit
directly -- as soon as
hang up (or disconnect) -- ring off
on vacation -- on holiday
Spellings are also different, in British writing:
- words ending in "ize" are often "ise" instead: realise, recognise, organise
- some words swap "er" and "re": centre, fibre, calibre, metre, lustre
- "e" is sometimes converted to "ae": encyclopaedia, orthopaedic, anaemic
- "-eck" is often "-eque": cheque
- "-ense" is "-ence": offence, defence, licence, pretence
- "or" is sometimes "our": colour, humour, neighbour, honour, favourite, harbour
- "l" is often doubled: jewellery, counsellor
- gray is grey
- cozy is cosy
- mold is mould
- tire is tyre
- plow is plough
- draft beer is draught beer (to draft a letter is still to draft)
And sometimes their verbs are different when used with collective nouns:
We say, "The team is winning." They say, "The team are winning."
Punctuation is a special challenge. To British writers, a period is a full stop, (parentheses) are brackets, [brackets] are square brackets, and "quotation marks" are inverted commas. Here are some differences that come to mind:
- ending punctuation in a quote usually goes outside, rather than inside, the closing quotation mark:
My favorite fictional character names seem to be "Jack", "Charlie", and "Kate".
- primary quotes are sometimes single quotes rather than double, with the double quotes inside:
'I re-read "The Lottery" last night', Jane said.
- periods after certain abbreviations are omitted:
Mr Smith, Mrs Peel, Dr Watson
- a period, rather than a colon, is used between hours and minutes:
I met her at 10.15 yesterday.
- the British also seem to avoid the use of the Oxford comma, or "serial" comma (the one before the conjunction in a series):
Attending the movie's premiere were two hookers, the producer's wife and the director's wife.
NOTE: The previous sentence is a good example of why I prefer to use the serial comma. It can prevent unintentional mistakes, and even lawsuits.
One more thing. The British are more likely to use words like spilt, leapt, dreamt, and spoilt, instead of the way we would indicate the past tense of those verbs, and they seem far more forgiving of the use of "ly" adverbs and synonyms for "said." They also seem to prefer "towards" over "toward."
These are only some of the differences I've discovered/re-discovered as I continue my marathon-read of Fleming's works. (I'm in the middle of his seventh novel, Goldfinger, at the moment.) But I must say, I've found these differences to be more interesting than distracting. And I think I now have a better appreciation of the old saying that America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.
Can you think of other Britishisms that I've left out? I'm sure there are many. And a question for my fellow SleuthSayers Melodie Campbell and Stephen Ross: Does usage/style in Canada and Australia generally agree with British?
As for this reader/writer, it's back to his regular programme. 'And directly I've finalised my endeavour with the Bond novels, I plan to analyse all the Bond movies again', he observed sombrely. As he changed into his colourful pyjamas.