If you wish to prepare a story, or perhaps a poem for the US market, will it get lost transatlantic? By changing the ‘s’ to a ‘z’ are we pandering to a stronger (larger) market or accepting the inevitable change. And then it can work the other way – recent stories in the press state the Americans have begun spelling gray as grey, caused perhaps by the presence of 50 Shades of said colour (color).
So where did all this difference begin? How did the Puritans heading off for a new life begin to so radically change the language they took with them? As the settlers settled into new patches of land they staked out, colloquialisms grew and entered common speech. Words written down slewed spellings and structure. And when a certain Noah Webster created his An American Dictionary of The English Language in 1828 the morphed words were set, confirmed; there to be referred to when required.
The settlers took archaic English with them, middle-English words the Americans still use, words with which Chaucer and Shakespeare would scribe lost favour in England but remained in common usage over the pond. Did you know faucet, diaper and fall (autumn) were once used in England? We just let them fall out of use.
Language is a living thing, ever growing and changing to embrace new inventions, products, behaviour and styles. And while we were separated by an ocean, the differences in English and American English grew, until along came the Internet, joining everyone, making communications instant, consolidating literary culture. Again we have to share a language or try to translate as best we can.
It is a struggle. If I write a story for the American market, no matter how carefully I alter the text to reflect the commonplace alternatives ‘center’ my thinking and ‘realize’ what I need to change, there will always be something I miss, an expression we English use and our American cousins do not. In a recent story I used the phrase ‘she stared into the middle distance’ something we use as a description for a vacant look, or a thousand-yard stare. But this phrase, as I was told by my fellow literary group members, is unknown stateside. And there is confusion on both sides – I questioned the term ‘golden’ used in an email by a US contact – it means: 'it’s good to go to press' – now I know!
So as you write, take note of what’s happening to language, words you suddenly begin to spell differently, new expressions that become ingrained.
When change happens fast it’s easy to overlook the change.