What with the American credit rating downgrade, the stock market plummeting and riots all over London, I’m grateful to have an American edit at all.  I mean, who’s got time to think about publishing books when our time would be better spent digging Anderson shelters in the back garden and stocking them with canned goods?

Yet life manages to go on.

The weird thing about being published in America is that the team (author, editor, copy editor) has to decide how much of the book needs to be translated into…English. My reference to a Zodiac boat, for instance, carried a note from the copyeditor worried that ‘American readers won’t know what this is.’ Thanks to the miracle of context, however, I’m guessing we’ll get by. “You have a boat?” says one character. “Yes! A little Zodiac,” says the next.

What about lift/elevator? Biscuit/cookie? Petrol/gas? I’m guessing those are all relatively straightforward for the Harry Potter generation. And does tea and cookies sound right to anyone on either shore?

What about words like “poxy”? It’s such a perfect word to describe something deserving of contempt. “Lousy” doesn’t quite do it. And does it matter that a character who once “jacked in” his job now “clears his desk”? In my head, it has become polite, and I miss the slight edge of the original. But will anyone else care?

I left “gobsmackingly weird” in, though my copyeditor wanted it replaced with “jaw-droppingly weird.” An executive decision there, that “gobsmackingly weird” is onomatopoeic enough to carry the Americans along. And aren’t twisty new uses of language half the fun of reading?

But “gentleman’s relish” became “anchovy paste” and “tit over arse” came out altogether. (Backwards or upside down, btw.)

A week or two ago, my German translator phoned — wanting a synonym for “squishy woo-woo.”

I sighed. Well, it’s sex, I explained. But I made up the expression. It has overtones of kiddy-talk (“woo-woo” as in “woo-woo I can see your underpants,”) and the squishy is onomatopoeic again, and how a person would translate it into German is way beyond me.

When the South Korean sale comes through, I’m just going to hide.



23 thoughts on “The American Edit

  1. Ray Hewitt 8 years ago

    My efforts to knock my Manuscript into shape involve a lot of use of the word ‘Bollocks’ right now … I blame you for this Meg 😉

    But I’m writing again (now I have my own place – Yay!) So that’s got to be ‘The Dogs Bollocks’ right?!

  2. mta 8 years ago

    Thanks for talking about this!

    This kind of correction drives me crazy. When I was a young editorial assistant, I worked at Candlewick Press — which had just, just been spawned by England’s Walker Books. Part of my job was to “Americanize” books. (Yes, we called it that.) I was cranky about it.

    The world is constructed through language. A cookie is not the same as a biscuit. Ribena is not the same as Kool Aid. Doesn’t taste the same, doesn’t have the same cultural significance. When words like these have changed — small details, it’s true — do we then reorganize sentences to flatten British grammar into standard American usage?

    Why would we shield kids from knowing about the variety in the world, about the plenitude of their own language? About all the different ways of being? Isn’t that why we tell stories?

    From my Anderson shelter,

    M. T. Anderson

  3. Antony John 8 years ago

    Ah, the joys of intra-language translation. Downer for you, though, that your copyeditor is so perplexed by your Britishisms. Every time I use a British phrase, my US copyeditor puts a smiley face in the margin.

    And then asks me what I mean.

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      What is it with American editors and smiley faces? Do they drive you to uncontrollable rages? Just asking.

  4. mta 8 years ago

    I couldn’t agree more. When I was a young thing — an editorial assistant — I worked at Candlewick Press, which had just been founded to import Walker books for an American audience. I had to do some “Americanization” — which I was poor at, because the whole process made me cranky. (Back then, there was a lot of Wally –> Waldo.)

    A cookie is not the same thing as a biscuit. Ribena is not the same thing as Hi-C, and it’s not just a matter of flavor. As for a Zodiac boat, would more American kids cotton on to a Chriscraft?

    The world is built through language. Why would we want to protect our children from the plenitude and variety of their mother tongue? Why would we want to minimize differences in the stories we tell? Don’t we tell stories and read them specifically so that we can live lives other than our own?

    It’s often not worth fighting for in a single instance, but in a broader sense, we Americans have got to start to acknowledge a world in which not everyone eats Chips Ahoy.

    From his Anderson shelter,

    M. T. Anderson

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      And I’ll never forget the word infundibuliform, used by Joseph Heller in Catch-22 to describe the shape of someone’s jaw, and looked up by me at the age of 15. Not that I’m always so good at looking up words, but that one demanded attention. If I used it in a book now, would I have to change it to one the public would understand?

  5. Caroline Coxon 8 years ago

    No mention of vest and pants? That always makes me laugh in an infantile way. But not quite as much as the use of the word period.

    Oooh, I’m such a child.

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      I love the word pants, used in the English way. And when people started saying “this is pants!” as in, “this is rubbish!” I nearly died of happiness.

  6. raych 8 years ago

    But I *like* the word ‘poxy.’ How are we supposed to start using ‘poxy’ in our everyday speech if it isn’t cropping up in our books?

  7. MmeLindor 8 years ago

    What a shame, that all your quirky British expressions are to be removed or replaced.

    When I read an American book, there are often words that I don’t quite understand the meaning of, but they add authenticity to the story. Only today did I learn what “biscuits and gravy” means – I had presumed some kind of dumplings but an American friend explained they are small dinner rolls. The lack of exact understanding has not spoiled the book or made me lay it aside.

    Although I must admit to sniggering inwardly when said American friend commented that she went to the tailor recently to have her pants altered.

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      What is it about pants? Always good for a laugh.

  8. Lauren 8 years ago

    Pants is just an inherently funny word. But pair it with “suit” as in “pantsuit” and it’s even funnier. I wish you could actually buy pants (as in underwear) suits.

  9. Lynne Harris 8 years ago

    oh for petes sake!! Makes me MAD!! Leave in the English … it’s a bloody ENGLISH novel … if it’s set in England, keep it English … if my American friends need a translation, they can use google (or ask me) … most people I know over here enjoy the Englishness of certain books … it sets the scene, it puts the characters where they should be, not in some American version of England.
    That is my humble opinion, anyway …

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      Thank you for your foot-stamping, Lynne. Wish I’d read it before I started the edit. You’d have made me leave everything as is. (I didn’t change much, however….)

  10. Monique 8 years ago

    I just finished reading your book and I thought it was hilarious. I certainly would have liked the British-isms mentioned above, and I think most Canadians do delight in biscuits, poxy and the refined use of “pants.” Well, those of us who read British novels anyway.

    This was a great read, thank you. Not sure if you’ve ever read Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, bit of a dark version of the ark, but I like these alternative versions.

    Thank you!

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      Thanks Monique. So glad you liked it! xmeg

  11. K M Lockwood 8 years ago

    Try writing in Yorkshire dialect.

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      Now that would be an interesting exercise.

  12. Christina 8 years ago

    This goes right along with the namby-pamby Kinder Egg rule you wrote about earlier. Gosh, make sure we protect the American readers, they might be too stupid to figure out what these British phrases mean or to look them up!

    This Americanization process is PRECISELY why I refused to buy the Harry Potter books in the American version. My British relatives kindly sent us the first four books from the UK, and I subsequently purchased the remaining books from Canada so that we’d get the U.K. versions, which weren’t destroyed by the Americanization process.

    1. Meg Rosoff 8 years ago

      I didn’t know HP was Americanized. But of course it was. Were Death Eaters renamed Passed-Away Eaters?

  13. Christina 8 years ago

    Ha! If they had been renamed, I suppose it would’ve been “Crossing the Rainbow Bridge Nibblers,” actually. We all just went to see “Deathly Hallows 2” last night and drove home remarking on how awfully, awfully glad we were that it was British actors in the film and that Disney had naught to do with it.

Comments are closed.