Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pet Peeve: British to American

In the pet peeve department: I was about to buy a Nick Hornby book in the Chicago airport the other day, (How to Be Good, I think) and, while leafing through it, I noticed that "color" was missing the "u", which of course is inlcuded in the British spelling: colour. There were several other Americanizations throughout the book, such as spelling "realized" with a z instead of an s.
This kind of thing drives me a little nuts. What is the point of this? Do publishers think we don't know Nick Hornby is British? Are they trying to insulate us from foreign spellings?

Maybe I am being too sensitive, but I find it insulting. I read the Economist on most flights (it usually gets me through at least two hours, and as a bonus I get to catch up on what's happening in Sri Lanka or Malawi) and enjoy the fact that they don't make "American editions." On a similar note, I've noticed that some books are given different titles when they are released in the U.S. Maybe a few decades ago I would never even have found this out, but in the internet age of globalism, when I can find foreign reviews of books instantly, what are they trying to do? Why is Philip Pullman's The Northern Lights known as The Golden Compass in the U.S.? I think maybe its the idea that a bunch of publishers are sitting around thinking we Americans are too stupid or too insular to buy a book or product if we find out it has a foreign source. I'm not really sure why, but I don't like it. My thought is that anyone who would read a Nick Hornby book very likely knows he's a Brit already. And, anyway, in the age of Harry Potter, isn't that a good thing?


Vincent said...

Well said, Patrick. But I must confess to a similar kind of concern, when publishing on my blog to an international audience. Shall I write in my own language and say "flat" or ought I to say "apartment" to make sure no one thinks I'm referring to a tyre? If I say "pavement" will they know I mean "sidewalk"?

But the whole business of the English spelling "-ise" instead of "-ize" is an invention of the MS spellchecker, as far as I can see - self-fulfilling of course as no one seems to trust their own experience any more. I always wrote "realize" as a child, long before any American influence.

I suppose this translation business creates employment and has to obey rules.

Unfortunately American usages creep into England, especially its cosmopolitan parts, e.g. where I live which is full of recent immigrants who happily advertise rooms to rent instead of the more proper proper rooms to let. My landlord lets, I rent. But how can you expect recent immigrants to respect traditions?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Patrick, but for another reason. I want to see exactly what the author wrote, and if he is British or African or whatever, I want it to come across that way. Authenticity - that's what I want.
-Steven (Australia)

gentleeye said...

Hear! Hear!

One of my greatest joys when young was reading American books. I loved their different language, which no one bothered to 'anglicise' for me. It was part of their attraction. I didn't need a translator, but I had to think and inquire.

I do wonder what research has been done into the impact on sales that this policy has had. Does 'americanizing' an English book make it sell better?