Get with the programme or the program?

I live in the UK and studied English language and literature at university. (Whilst studying old and middle English our tutor promised us that we would never know how to spell with confidence again – and he was right!) Now my spelling tribulations have reached a new dimension. My last novel, and another novel coming out soon, are to be published by an American publisher. Should I prepare drafts with American spelling or English? At present I decide by subject matter: as both stories have been set in the Midlands, England, I have used English spelling, but for the short stories I have written, that could be set anywhere, I have used American (gray for grey, color for colour etc.) What do other people do?

Of course, the MEANING of words in the two countries takes us into a whole new realm. Was it Oscar Wilde or Mark Twain who said we were two countries divided by a common language? We wouldn’t talk about a woman’s fanny in polite society on this side of the pond, but I understand it is OK to do so in America as it refers to a far less suggestive part of the anatomy. I tend to carry my purse round in my handbag – what do American women use to put their money and cards in before they put it in their purse?

English readers – how many of these ‘Americanisms’ can you figure out (without looking at the English equivalents in the parentheses below)? *Barf, crosswalk, duplex, overpass, pacifier, realtor, station wagon, yard, trunk*. If you get most of them without thinking twice, then you have probably been watching plenty of American films and TV.

*(Vomit, pedestrian crossing, semi, flyover, dummy, estate agent estate car, garden, boot)

You can find these and more in MOTHER TONGUE, Bill Bryson’s entertaining, and largely accurate, book on our common (and not so common) language..



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