UK or US English – does it bother you either way?

I am a UK author, and I write my books in English – I don’t like to qualify that by calling it ‘UK English’ because in my books that’s a redundancy.

I hope that doesn’t offend my many US friends.

My reason for raising this, is that I often see discussions between UK authors about whether or not to put a disclaimer in the front of their novel, pointing out that the book is written in UK English, and not the US version. This comes about because we get slammed sometimes in reviews, by readers complaining about spelling mistakes.

I’ve never considered doing this, as I hadn’t personally experienced any issues, but during lockdown I fell foul of it in a (thankfully rare) 3 star review of THE PRINCE’S MAN.

3.0 out of 5 stars  Kept me engaged.

Reviewed in the United States on May 27, 2020 Verified Purchase

But, a sudden, drastic, change in one of the main characters, towards the end of the book, just didn’t totally fly. And, the proofing misses could be distracting. Still, if you’re not too picky, it’s worth checking out.

Now, I’m still trying to figure out which character this reviewer is talking about, because all the main characters change as a result of their experiences – it’s called ‘growth’ – but as far as I’m aware, none of those changes are drastic, sudden, or unwarranted.

Putting that conundrum aside, I was quite rattled to see the ‘proofing misses’ mentioned.

This is a book that frequently gains praise for (alongside other things) the lack of errors, so I was confused, and on the verge of re-reading the entire novel when I realised what the problem must be: this review is by a US reader, clearly counting my English spelling as mistakes.

So my question to you, especially US readers is, do you notice UK spellings? Do they bother you? Or do you realise once you see them that you are reading a book written by a UK author?

Just curious.

18 comments

  1. I also write in English. I belong to an online writers’ group that shares excerpts for feedback and soon realised that, not only are an unexpected number of Americans unaware of differences in spelling (and these are writers?) but there are other stylistic and punctuation differences that I’d be challenged on (eg. that speech marks should always be double for dialogue – really? Also details like dashes never having a space each side in the US while ellipses always do…)
    So I started preceding my posts with the declaration that spelling and punctuation were UK English.
    I am, though, careful to remain consistent in any story. Americanisms can creep in unawares, but the better online sites for grammar advice will alert you to the differences.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah yes, I’d forgotten about the punctuation differences! I think possibly that’s because most readers are not so hot on punctuation anyway, it seems to be less of an issue, although (despite my general adherence to English style) I have adopted the lack of space either side of a dash, as that seemed to get noticed and commented on most. (Sorry, mega run-on sentence there!)
      It does seem that many Americans don’t realise there is a difference in spelling (shocking, I think, especially amongst writers) but I’ve resisted the disclaimer until now. Perhaps I will re-think after this episode – it isn’t as if it will take long to add it, and if it can stave off such comments in reviews, perhaps worth it.
      I resist mostly out of stubbornness – why should I NEED to do so?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. One would think in the land of books that people who read would get by now if the author is from the UK. I struggled with this ‘language’ dilemma when I published my first book. After chatting with my editor, I decided to write in US English to appease readers and abandon my own Canadian spelling. Great topic! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sadly I’m not sure a lot of Americans realise anyone might be from outside their country!
      And I hadn’t even considered that there might be issues with your Canadian spelling, but probably good advice from your editor, Deb. I refuse to go that far, but perhaps I might add the declaration of UK English in the front of my books, I just resent the need to do so – this is ENGLISH, after all!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m with you on all counts. Although, I really don’t believe you have to ‘declare’ your books in UK English, it’s almost insulting. x

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s exactly what I think!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember not getting past the first round of a short story competition once because the judges did not like some of the words I’d used in my entry. I’d used words such as ‘motorway’, ‘pavement’ and ‘sleet.’ The feedback I got back was that I should have used American English because the competition was being run from the USA. However, there was nothing in the rules stating that. It put me off from entering any writing competitions set outside of the UK for years.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. How rude! Several members of my writers group regularly submit to US magazines and anthologies (and sell sometimes) but they have never had their use of English queried or criticized. I can understand how that put you off.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. That explains why I had a comment about poor editing on Goodreads once, by a US reader. Apart from that I mainly don’t see any problems or any need to proclaim my version Is English UK. I don’t actually notice the spelling when I am reading books by US authors. I would only notice words that don’t make sense to a Brit – what, they’re having gravy and biscuits for breakfast, what a strange meal!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol, yes, and I still giggle over them wearing pants, I can’t help it, all I see is underwear!
      I’m the same, I really don’t notice US spelling, but obviously some US readers notice UK spelling, and I find it exasperating to be accused of proofing mistakes as a result.

      Like

  5. I do notice UK spelling — and feel cosmopolitan that I recognize it for what it is. No, no disclaimer. People should be more worldly, not you less.

    BTW, I’ve read that book, loved it, and haven’t a clue what she means.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jacqui – I don’t notice US spelling, so I don’t see why US readers should notice UK spelling. I think I will leave well alone – this is the first time anyone has criticized my English, and it’s one in over 100, so I guess it’s not worth taking any action.
      Trouble is, every negative comment in a review rankles, doesn’t it? No matter how many good ones we get. We are so protective of our babies.
      And thanks also, I’m still scratching my head over the mentioned character change.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They do rankle. And usually my bad reviews are 1/5–what is wrong with people?! Wait till you read the comment I’m talking about tomorrow on IWSG. Yikes!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yikes! I will read that with horrified interest, I’m sure. And who knows? What motivates people to become bullies and trolls – I’ve never understood that.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting that this topic should come up right now … I’ve just finished the first draft of my new novel, and I made a deliberate choice to use real english rather than US english, because the story is set in 1920’s-ish England-ish (it’s a fantasy, hence the ‘-ish’) and it just made sense to write that way. I’m not concerned about any backlash, but I do know that it will come up.
    I grew up in Australia so my natural inclination is to use real english, but since I’ve been here in Canada (since 2004) my spelling has become a confused mishmash of both.
    You’re right about a lot of Americans giving the rest of the world a steely-eyed stare if they dare to hint that the US isn’t the center of the universe! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, I’m SO pleased you call it ‘real’ English!!!
      I have hesitated to do so, but that’s how I think of it – after all, the UK is where it originated.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. An interesting discussion! I’m a Canadian author who sets my stories in Canada. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary is a mix of both UK and US spellings, but it’s what I prefer to use with my newer series. When I published my first 4 Casey Holland mysteries with a Canadian publisher, we had a lengthy debate with the editor about whether to use Canadian or American spelling. Their argument was that Americans wouldn’t appreciate Canadian spelling and wouldn’t understand a few of the Canadian-specific word choices, and that to appeal to the huge American market, we should go with this. My argument was that the characters are Canadian, the book’s set in Canada, and written by a Canadian author. I lost the argument, but there you go. To maintain consistency, I still use American spelling with books 5 and 6, which I subsequently self-published. With the urban fantasy I’m working on, again set in Canada, the spelling will be Canadian.

    Like

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