March 24, 2014

How Do You Spell It?

Honest to goodness, I have no idea what language I speak anymore. <<< See that word right there? Blogger gave it the old red underline treatment for reasons I still can't figure out. I was always taught that anymore  was one word, so imagine my surprise to see it treated as a spelling error. Is it a regional difference (as in UK vs. US), personal preference (much like the Oxford comma debate), or just something that was once considered wrong but has become acceptable based on common usage? Who the heck even knows?

Maybe I'll just bang my
head against a wall...
See, here's the thing. As a Canadian writer, I encounter puzzling word situations like this ALL THE TIME. When I began to write with the hope of being published, I decided I would write my stories in American English.* This might come as a surprise to some of you, but when it comes to written English, there is a metric crap ton (tonne?) of issues for a Canadian writer. We're in a funny position here in Canada: we're stuck somewhere linguistically between the US and the UK with a dash of le fran├žais  thrown in for good measure. (Did you know Canada's two official languages are English and French?) What this means is that all of the words I knew how to spell, suddenly I maybe don't.

Do you know what a toque  is? Up here it's what some of you would call a beanie, a knitted hat, or a stocking cap. In Canada it's just toque  thanks to the Francophone influence in our country, but I would probably never write a story using this word. And then there are all of the extra 'U's that we use thanks to all of the British influence. Around these parts it's favoUrite, coloUr, humoUr, flavoUr, honoUr, neighboUr, among others. And then there's the ER vs. RE situation: centRE, mediocRE, theatRE, and so on. And SE vs. CE: adviCE or adviSE, offenCE or offenSE...GUE vs. G in monoloGUE, dialoGUE, cataloGUE...and on and on it goes. Sometimes I simply don't know which spelling to use.

You have no idea how many times I've typed the words "is it _________ or ________?" into my search engine. It's approaching ridiculous.

But it doesn't end with just differences in spelling. Sometimes the issue arises whether to hyphenate or compound words or simply leave them separate. I think as Canadians we have a tendency to compound words that would be hyphenated or left as two separate words in the United States. This is something I never had to ponder in school, but as a writer am now constantly questioning. Thanks to this bizarro CanAmeriBritFrench stew of a language I've acquired in my thirty some odd years on the earth, writing certainly never gets dull. It's possible I'm the only person completely baffled and befuddled by all of this, though I'd like to think I'm not the only one going slowly crazy trying to choose between likeable  and likable. I mean, we speak the same language, for crying out loud...but at the same time kind of don't. Interesting, sure, but also a little exhausting. Suddenly, it's no longer just zed  vs. zee  anymore (any more?).

HOW ABOUT YOU? HAVE YOU RUN INTO ANY SURPRISING SPELLING AND/OR GRAMMAR SITUATIONS IN YOUR WRITING?


* Mainly in the attempt to get an American agent and hopefully get picked up by an American publisher.


19 comments:

  1. That's so interesting--and frustrating, too, I'm sure! :( I think it must be the linguistic mix you get by being Canadian, because I don't have this problem on the same scale... I do use my college's OED subscription a LOT to check myself, but I think that's because my vocabulary is expanding pretty rapidly while I'm in school right now.

    I did notice you (or was it your sister?) write "favourite" instead of "favorite" once, but that is the only time I have personally noticed any spelling differences. As far as writing your novels goes, I think you should try not to stress about it too, too much--editors exist for a reason, right? (I *think* that is the kind of thing a certain kind of editor helps with...) And certainly, if the book is good enough to interest an agent, I have this feeling he/she wouldn't be turned off by some Canadian spelling idiosyncrasies here and there.

    It sounds like a pain, in any case. I hope you can find a good balance here--of being conscious of your language and using it naturally. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're just such a weird mish mash of so many things. A good deal of our media, etc. comes from the US, so we're obviously heavily influenced by our American neighbours (neighbors lol) to the south. But we are still a Commonwealth country, and with that comes a lot of British influence as well. In my blog posts I tend to use the Canadian/British spellings of words, but in my WiP I use American spellings wherever possible, so I'm always flipping back and forth. Some of the things are just surprising. Erin and I grew up on the Ontario/Michigan border, so you'd think we'd be more aware of some of these differences, but it wasn't until we both started writing to be published that we picked up on a lot of these differences. It's certainly interesting though!

      Delete
  2. Also, I see you're reading Cruel Beauty! :D Excited to see what you think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm still processing. ;-) I liked it, but I was confused at times by the world building. I'm not even sure if, even after finishing it, I totally understand it. Definitely a unique take on the story! And the prose was so pretty too!

      Delete
    2. (I agree about the confusing nature of some of Cruel Beauty, btw--particularly the ending.... Still liked it a lot, but yeah.)

      Delete
  3. I had no idea Canadians add the 'U' to words like we do. I get frustrated when UK English words come up with a red line underneath because whatever word processor I'm using is automatically set to American English. You would think they would be set up for UK English, since that's where I live, but no, apparently not.
    It does sound super confusing for you though - that's a whole lot of language variance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We mostly write things the same way as in the UK here. That's kind of our default, but that gets challenging when you're writing. I'm not even sure what my word processor is set to anymore lol. :-)

      Delete
  4. You know this drives me totally bonky too. My latest issue with this was the word pedaling/pedalling. Apparently, the double L version is British while the single L version is American. Who knew? All the regional names for things are a pain too. Liam told me that the word "parkade" is a western Canadian thing, so it not only differs from the US (where it's called a "parking garage") but it's also different from eastern Canada. I remember when I first moved out west and heard people referring to a "flat of pop," instead of a "case of pop." And of course, if you're American then it could be either soda or pop, depending on where you live. I guess we Canucks are just a confused bunch, and those of us who are writers are even more confused because we have to sort all of this out!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The whole double or single 'l' thing throws me for a loop every time too. I guess I just wasn't aware before I started writing just how many differences there were. You'd think we would be more savvy about this given where we grew up, so close to Michigan and all. But you're totally right about regional differences even in Canada. It's all so confusing sometimes, and kind of interesting too.

      Delete
    2. Here in australia/new zealand soda or pop is called fizzy... And we spell jewellery like that instead of jewelry :)

      Delete
  5. Wow, I never realized how much of a struggle it could be for Canadian writers trying to write "American" books! Though I've never read your writing, your blog posts have always seemed perfect to me! Also, I'd imagine that American agents and editors wouldn't fault you too much if certain words weren't in the American style. That's what copy editors are for!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A good deal of our media, etc. comes from the US, so we're definitely influenced by our American friends, but we kind of default to the UK spellings as a general rules. It kind of makes me think of the Imperial vs. Metric system thing too. I actively use both depending on the situation. Baking = Imperial. Distance = Metric. We're just totally screwed up up here lol. I know that agents and editors will probably overlook these idiosyncrasies, but I still want it to be perfect, you know? ;-)

      Delete
  6. As you might imagine, I've encountered this a few times--especially the first few years after I moved to the US. Susan raises a great point, though: these are things a good agent/editor will catch. Especially if they know you're from Canada, they'll understand and help you make the necessary translations. In fact, most words are so similar, while it's frustrating, I think people understand that "flavour" = "flavor" and "centre" = "center." The worst cases are colloquialisms--those distinctly Canadian or English turns of phrase that don't translate. If you're writing for a US audience, those can cause the worst confusion, and are probably worth investing the time to sort out--I mean resolve. ;)

    I feel your pain, though, Jaime! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know an editor would catch these things, but I still want it to be as polished up as possible, and that includes spelling. ;-) When I work on my writing, I use American spellings wherever possible, but on this blog and in my daily life I default to UK spellings. I guess I just didn't realize exactly how many differences there were until I started actively writing. It's certainly interesting, even if it's a bit frustrating at times!

      Delete
  7. I haven't posted here in a while, but I have to say, that must be so frustrating for you as a writer! Is there not really a market for YA set in Canada? Then you can use all the Canadian English you want--instantly distinctive voice!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I intern for a Canadian literary agency and this problem does come up a lot. Even with the agency, they encourage their writers (both Canadian and American, since they take on both) to write in American English. The publishing marketplace is just bigger in America, and American publishers want their MS to be in American English. But, like Susan said, if you end up with an American literary agent, just throw in your bio that you're in Canada and they'll understand. Most have assistants/interns to do a copy-edit of your MS before subbing it anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hiya

    I'm in Australia and we have the same issues here. I try to write in Amercian English but yeah it doesn't always work that well. I sometimes slip up with favourite and colour etc. I guess it's training... or whatever. I started setting my word spell check to american to help me catch some. It works most of the time.

    Angel

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have the probably pretentious habit of using British spellings in my personal writing (a habit I fell out of for awhile but recently picked up again). However, I'm able to code-switch pretty well, and use American spellings in my fiction writing and writing for classes.

    There are a couple of British spellings I picked up somewhere along the line and used for years before I found out they're not American spellings. Things like yoghurt, catalogue, aeroplane, spoilt, learnt, burnt, dreamt. I've used those spellings for so many years, I just can't get my brain to start using different spellings. I suppose it doesn't matter, now that I've decided to go indie and won't have someone forcing me to use spellings like "learned" and "airplane."

    ReplyDelete
  11. I've lived in the US my whole life, and I can't spell either. I am firmly of the opinion that knowing how to spell in not a requirement for being an author, having an imagination is. Just write your book in Canadian, then let your copy editor worry about whether anymore is one or two words.

    ReplyDelete

I ♥ comments. They make me smile.☺