An American Writing British

Something to note before we get started: I have a grand total of zero (0) British/English friends and acquaintances, so everything I (think I) know about British English is through the internet.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on. The book series I’m working on at the moment is set in a city that’s modeled after late-Victorian London. Roughly, sort of. It’s not actually British, or even in Europe, but their culture is very much modeled after that sort of thing.

The good thing about being a writer — instead of, say — an actor, is that, for the most part, English is English is English when you’re writing. Aside from a few extra U’s, S’s instead of Z’s, and a few other changes, I don’t have to go out of my way to write for British and American audiences.

The spelling is easy(ish). After I finally found the setting to change my word processor from American to British so it would stop changing “colour” to “color,” I was pretty much set spelling-wise. It’s the words that I slip up on.

I’ve found myself having to look up more words than I thought I would. Like, I had no idea what “braces” meant. Americans: they’re suspenders. Brits: “braces” are the metal things orthodontists put on your teeth to line them up.

I really hope I’m not getting incorrect information here, or seriously archaic terminology. And considering how my stories aren’t just written in British English, but also in the 1890s, a century ago. So, definitions aren’t enough. I’ve found out more about the origins of common modern phrases and organizations and systems than I ever would have, before becoming a writer.

Like, I had no idea that “pets” weren’t really a thing until the Victorian era, since Queen Victoria was a serious animal person. Before then, they were mostly accepted, but just expected to look after themselves, like cats = living mousetraps. Then, as soon as a member of the Royal family does something, it’s fashionable.

I remember reading something about the Prince of Wales getting the tattoo (scandalous!) of a Jerusalem Cross, and the tattoo scene snowballing and suddenly becoming popular with the rich. Hidden, of course.

But, this post is supposed to be about British vs. American English, not history, so I digress.

I’ve noticed something, and maybe it was obvious to everyone but me, but in the olden days (like 19th century), America and the UK were very different places. Similar, but different, and I’m not just talking about the accents.

Like, it could just be my imagination, but were women slightly freer in America, especially in the west? But it makes sense. The Brits already had a mostly established home, while the Americans (the westerners, at least) were trekking across practically uncharted land to find a new home. I think they had bigger things to worry about than propriety.

See: Hell on Wheels. I’ve only seen, maybe, one episode. That lady carriage driver, not sure if there’s more than one. The episode where she (Spoiler? not sure) punches the racist, sexist, etc. bartender to get herself a drink. You go, girl.

But I just can’t imagine that happening in England at the same time. I know it’s a TV show, but it would absolutely not surprise me if it was true. The women on there seemed a bit freer than British women, even if being a woman at all has always been less-than-ideal until just a few decades ago.

I remember a friend of mine pointing out that no one wants to go back in time except white men. It’s pretty true.

I’m not bashing or insulting British folks, by the way. Don’t take this wrong. I’m just pointing out historical differences between the two countries. America started as a colony, and sort of… grew out of control? Like a fungus! Just kidding, I’m not calling us a fungus. But the point remains. Pretty much any country that earns/gets its independence from its parent country becomes its own country. If that makes sense…

Aside from the shared language (and really, British and American English are different enough to be considered different dialects, if not completely different languages), England and America are two completely different worlds. And that’s not just the flag talking for me.

One: we’re not European. And we don’t have an obsession with tea.

Hey, Brits! *whispers conspiratorially* Iced tea!

I started this because I was trying to write a story in a world modeled after England that went deeper than just swapping out “lift” for “elevator.” I hope I got it right. If not, let me know. I promise, I don’t bite.


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