#American #Dialog for British Authors

That’s dialog, not dialogue. But this article is not about American spelling. It’s about the way we talk.

Over the last few years, I’ve read quite a few books written by British authors, particularly independent authors who don’t have the means to pay for an editor or simply don’t see the point in spending the money. I completely understand, but with American characters comes American dialog. While it may seem like an easy task to write American speech (we both speak the same language after all!), it’s far more difficult than you might think.

Believe me, I know. As an American, I’ve done the opposite, written British characters—only one actually, the mother of Catherine from my Heart series. Not only is she British, but she’s an English tutor, so her British English has to be perfect, or “spot on” as the Brits would say.

The rest of my characters who lived in Britain were originally from Egypt and now live in America. Therefore, their English is blended. But that British English teacher has really caused me grief. Whenever I write her dialog, I keep it to a minimum and ask for help from British colleagues for the little bit she does say. I want it to be as authentic as possible. That’s not to say it’s perfect, and if it’s not, I certainly hope any British readers would inform me of mistakes I may have made.

Now when British authors write the narration, it can be as British as can be. Only the dialog must be American when applicable.

So, without further ado, the following is a list of mistakes I’ve seen lately, along with the correct American way of saying the same thing. In the future, I may add to this list as I come upon more issues in British books. (Incidentally, some of these might be Australian too. If they aren’t British, my apologies.)

Bloody: We don’t use bloody as a curse word. Ever. To us, bloody refers to the red stuff. I actually have read a couple of books by American authors using the word and was flabbergasted. They must read a lot of British books like I do! Now I do have one chapter in Half-Jew entitled, “The Bloody Truth,” a double meaning regarding DNA tests, but trust me—in regular speech, we don’t say it. We use damn or the “F” word or some variation like freaking or friggin’.

Car park: parking lot

Sort: We don’t sort ourselves out. We may sort through papers, but we don’t sort situations or get things sorted.

Get on together: Friends get along well. They may “get it on,” but that means something else entirely!

Who knows what he’s on about: Who knows what he’s talking about?

Fancy: Fancy dress, yes. Fancy shindig? That too. Do we fancy someone or fancy doing something? Nope.

Rubbish: nonsense, baloney, hogwash, bull, crap, B.S. (word choice depends on the personality of the character); or garbage or trash, if you’re referring to what you throw away.

Rubbish bin: trash can or garbage can (but we do have recycling bins—don’t ask me why!)

Lift: elevator

Piss off: We don’t tell people to piss off. Someone might be pissed off, meaning angry, but in this context, we would just say “F” off (the whole word, not just the initial).

Sod off: “F” off, go away, shut up

Happy Christmas: Merry Christmas

Endorsement: license (as in driver’s license)

Queue: We wait in line not in a queue.

Hospital, A&E and Operating Theatre: We go to THE hospital not to hospital. Also, A&E is the emergency room. For example, “Mark’s in the hospital. They took him to the emergency room, and he’s in surgery right now.”

Flat: apartment

Brilliant or “brill”: We don’t use the word brilliant for great. A color can be brilliant, or an intelligent person might be brilliant, but if we’re happy about something, we would never say, “Brilliant!”

Telephone: We don’t ring people. We call them.

Go: We don’t make a go of it or have another go. We give it a try or give it a shot or do it or try to do it or take another turn.

Motorbike: motorcycle

Hire car: rental car

Suspect: I suspect she’s doing well: no. I imagine (or I think or I guess) she’s doing well: yes.

Touch wood: knock on wood

Lovely: When we say lovely, we are usually being sarcastic. Some women might use it once in a while to genuinely describe something or someone, but it’s not common. Also, men would definitely never say it unless they’re being sarcastic.

Post letters: We don’t post letters. We send or mail them, even though the mail goes through the US “Post” Office. We simply don’t use it as a verb unless we’re talking about posting something online.

I could do with a bath right about now: I could really use a bath.

Lift your game: up your game

Give it a miss: I know what this means, but how would we say it? Maybe, “I’ll sit this one out.” “I think I’ll skip it this time.” “No thanks, not for me.” Depends on the context.

Keep pace: keep up

Kitting up: Maybe suiting up? I’d never heard this one until recently.

For “F’s” sake: That’s one we don’t use. For Christ’s sake, for gd’s sake (not that this is any better!)

Windscreen: windshield

Shall: It’s rare that we say shall, although on occasion some of us might. I have before but almost as a joke or as a cute way of saying something.

A coffee is a foreign thing. We drink a cup of coffee, or we drink coffee. Do you drink a tea? No, you drink a cup of tea. (Or a cuppa as you guys say, another thing you’d never hear from us.) “Would you like some tea?” That would work.

Straight away: right away

Trail biking: dirt biking

In due course: in due time, or just plain “soon”

Firstly: first, or first of all

Parked up: parked

Rear vision mirror: rear view mirror

To be keen on someone or something: Dogs have a keen sense of smell, but that’s the most common use of the word “keen” here. We aren’t keen on people, just like we don’t fancy them. We like them, we might have a thing for them, a crush on them—context again.

Have got: have gotten. Go ahead and cringe. I don’t care. If you write American dialog, you have to know it’s gotten.

Holiday: We don’t go on holiday. We take vacations. We use the word holiday in the context of religious or celebratory days like Christmas, Rosh Hashanah or something like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or July 4th .

This is my list for now, but it will grow as I think of more. Be sure and bookmark this article to use as a reference, and if you think of something to add, let me know in the comments.

UPDATE:

Bathroom: In the comments,  I was reminded of the bathroom differences. In the United States, it is most common to have everything in one bathroom: toilet, sink, shower and/or bathtub. More recently, I have seen some new houses with a door to the toilet, so it’s really a room inside a room. In other words, a toilet room inside the greater bathroom. But this is not nearly as common as the all-in-one.

There are also half-baths, usually the downstairs bathroom in a house. A half-bath only has a toilet and sink, while the full-baths are upstairs (although every house is different, and some houses have all full-baths, even downstairs). People would still call it the same thing, although some women will say “powder room” for that one. Most men would call it a bathroom.

As for the reference word, we never say “loo.” Military or ex-military personnel might call it a latrine. In the home, it’s a bathroom, but in public places, it’s a restroom. (I guess you’re resting while you’re sitting on the toilet!) Some people might call it “facilities,” though not as common. We also never say toilet to refer to the room, as that is only used for the toilet itself. So we wouldn’t say, “I have to use the toilet,” or “I’m going to the toilet.” Instead, “I have to go to the bathroom,” or “I’m going to the restroom. Be right back.”

Whilst: while. Whilst does not exist in America. It’s always while.

Trousers: pants

Lorry: truck

Mobile: cell or cellphone

Basque: bustier

Wing mirrors: side view mirrors

Car boot: trunk

Car bonnet: hood

Car wings: fenders

Gear stick: This is a gear stick in America as well, but it’s usually referred to as just plain “stick.” If you’re teaching someone to drive, for example, you would explain how to move the stick. Now a manual car is called a stick shift, or someone might ask if it’s an automatic or a manual (or a stick shift).

Indicators: Technically, this is correct, but it’s more common to call them turn signals or blinkers. Then there are the flashers, which is when you turn on the hazard lights. (Both flashers and hazard lights are terms used for the same thing.) There are also indicator lights on the dashboard, warning of a problem: check engine light, oil pressure low, etc.

Zebra or pelican crossings: crosswalk (But this is if your character is in America. If the book takes place in Britain, the American would call it whatever it’s called there.)

Tailgating (up my jacksie): We also use tailgating, but up my jacksie would be “up my a**.”

Dates: Not that this would be in dialog, but in case it is, Americans write the month first, then the day, then the year: February 13, 2018 would be 02/13/18. In dialog: “He has a doctor’s appointment on February thirteenth,” or, “He has an appointment on the thirteenth.”

Pram: stroller. The old fashioned kind is a baby carriage, but these days we generally use strollers.

Row: fight

Proper: We also use this word but not as often and not usually the same way. Depending on the sentence, we’d use maybe “really” or “perfect,” something like that. “The carpenter finally made a proper dining room table for his family after years of dealing with a makeshift one.” In a case like this, we’d say “real.”

Chuffed: happy, pleased, excited

Give a toss: give a crap, don’t care

Carriageway: divided highway or just highway or freeway. Southerners may call it a four-lane.

Prise: pry

Were or was stood, sat: were standing or sitting or just plain, stood or sat. We simply do not use stood or sat as a past participle and will use a different tense.

Tosh: nonsense, garbage, crap (We seem to use crap a lot!) And we’d rarely say “utter” in everyday language. We’d be more likely to say, “total garbage,” or “total crap,” than “utter nonsense,” although it wouldn’t be unheard of.

Lot (as in “this next lot”): group

Toilet roll: toilet paper

Should have done: should have (without done unless you say, “I should have done it.”)

Round: I see “came round” a lot in British books. “He came round again.” We would say, “He came around again.” Remember Tom Petty’s song, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”? We don’t often leave off the “a” unless you’re really emphasizing someone with a thick accent, maybe from the South. Example: “He went round the back.” Or, “He went round yonder.”

Dressing gown, indoor shoes: A dressing gown is a robe or bathrobe. Indoor shoes might be slippers, unless you’re talking about real shoes that are simply more comfortable.

Precisely: We use this too, but more often than not, we’d say, “exactly.”

Crisps: chips

Chips: fries or French fries

Nicked: stolen

Excellent: Yes, we use this word, but when you say it in the same way you’d say brilliant, like an exclamation, we’d be more likely to say good or great.

Jacket potato: baked potato

Tap: faucet

Torch: flashlight

Bang on: right, exactly, exactly right. If it’s a verb as in, “He was banging on about something or other,” we’d say, “He was going on and on…” or “babbling on.”

Tele: television (We don’t shorten it unless we call it a TV.)

Television program: It can be called a program, but we normally say “show” or “TV show” or “television show.” They’re all common. Another example, “Hey, did you see that show on TV last night?”

Dived: Dived is also correct in American English, but “dove” is more commonly used. There is an explanation on Grammarist here.

Third week running: third week in a row

Motorway: expressway, freeway, highway

Petrol: gas or gasoline

Hold-all: duffle bag or gym bag


D.M. Miller is the author of the interfaith “Heart” series as well as the romantic suspense, Mexican Summer, the poetry collection, Dandelion Fuzz and the memoir, Half-Jew: Searching for Identity. The product of an interfaith marriage herself, Miller’s work explores the difficult themes of religion, politics, ethnicity, culture, family, ancestry and love. See her books on Amazon.

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26 thoughts on “#American #Dialog for British Authors

  1. How true. I haven’t actually made it to the USA, though with family posted to the USA and living in Las Vegas we will be learning a lot and hopefully visiting. So I never write anything set in the USA and when I finally land on your shores I imagine my fiction will be centered on a Brit finding themesleves there. A lot of your words are truer in meaning than ours; holiday comes from Holy Day, but of course originally Holy Days were the only time the working poor had a break from routine. You’ve missed the most vital mix up! Bathroom is the place we have a bath – or a shower; pity Brits needing to go to the loo, or the toilet, but not to take a bath! Loo from the french gardez l’eau, when people threw the contents of their chamber pots out of the window! Hopefully we’ve all moved on from that. We’re both right because the original toilet was any washing and primping oneself up. Of course dialogue is a minefield even when you stick to your own country; different counties and states, family origins and generations mean a delightful variety of accents and terms; readers will cringe if you get it wrong. I look forward to more on your list.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ah yes, the bathroom! You’re right. I’ll add it, thanks!

      Interesting about holiday. That makes perfect sense.

      And of course you’re also right about the intricacies of dialog, even between regions within a country. It is cringe-worthy when it’s off unfortunately, but hopefully my list will help somewhat for general American dialog. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. A great post. A few of the ‘Brit’ sayings I’d disagree with but maybe that is regional so not what I’d hear around my neck of the woods. Do you use that one?

    I hope my books haven’t slipped in some, I have American editors so I’d hope they’d correct me LOL

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, we do say “my neck of the woods” too. 🙂 As for your books, I don’t remember you having American characters, although I haven’t yet read Is This Love? (downloaded but on the TBR list). If I had noticed something, I’m sure I would have told you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I’ve got to say, I can’t stand the word ‘gotten’. I know it’s American but to me, it sounds like half-learned English lol!

    The two I’d disagree with (on the English not American side, obviously) are :
    Happy Christmas. The British (or certainly the Welsh) would always, always say merry Christmas not happy Christmas. Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays is generally considered an American thing, interestingly, and it’s thought to be said to avoid offending anyone of a different faith.

    I’ve also never heard anyone use the word endorsement in place of licence.

    I find this divide fascinating – UK and America, Australia and Canada too. We all speak the same language and yet it is so different. It’s really interesting.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve seen other British authors cringing over the word “gotten,” so you certainly aren’t the only one! But you see, here it’s correct, while “had got” is totally wrong and sounds weird to me. 🙂

      As for Happy Christmas, there are definitely Brits who say that rather than Merry Christmas, and I even saw a conversation on social media about how only Americans say “merry,” so maybe it really is regional. Happy Holidays, yes, that’s exactly as you say, to be more inclusive.

      Endorsement might be Australian. Some of these I took from a book written by a Brit who lives in Australia, so I assumed it was all British, but some Australian English may have slipped in there too.

      I agree that it’s interesting. There are so many slight differences in phrasing. It makes it quite a task to try to write dialog for a character from another country, even an English-speaking one!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I know it’s correct there. It just sounds wrong to my ears lol I can’t think of an instance where we would say “had got” either though, we’d just say “had” or reword the sentence. The word ‘got’ is generally considered bad, I think. The only time I can think I’d use it is something like this:

        “Where is it?”
        “I’ve got it”

        or perhaps something like “I’ve got to go”

        The merry Christmas thing is a funny one and you’ve really surprised me (I’m even learning about my fellow countrymen lol). Perhaps, as you say, it’s a regional thing.

        A similar thing happens when translating to another language, actually – as you probably know (you speak Spanish, don’t you?) For example, whereas I might say “please can I have a beer”, in French it’s “Je prends une biere” (I’ll take a beer), which sounds rude and too direct to me but it’s completely normal and not rude at all.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. The date ‘thing’ is weird and caused a problem for me a couple of years ago when I had a cheque (check) from an American bank. When I tried to deposit it into my account the cashier (teller) refused it because it was dated 9/2/16. She said it was out of date having the date February. I had to explain that the cheque was only a couple of weeks old because the date was actually September. She was totally confused, clearly never having watched any American programmes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I do a lot of freelance work with American clients and the date can be very confusing! I think even in spoken word, the Americans tend to say “September 2nd” whereas the Brits tend to say “the 2nd of September”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Wow! It seems like I’ve always known the rest of the world writes dates differently than we do here, but I must have learned it at some point. I guess this was that teller’s opportunity to learn it too! So you call a bank teller a cashier? If so, I’d better add that one to the list.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. On the subject of ‘gotten,’ it’s actually very old English use, we’ve just dropped it for the most part. (Although now, with the re-shrinking of the world, it’s coming back into common use again.) I used to transcribe land documents dating back to the 17th C, and the phrase ‘mines and the minerals gotten …’ was a common one.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Loved this post Dana. Many of your points gave me a chuckle. Lots of your comparisons I already know about. Perhaps that comes from reading lots (loads) of American authors and certainly from watching American television programmes.
    The ‘hospital’ sample would be written as: Mark’s in hospital. He was admitted to A & E. He’s in the operating theatre at the moment.
    Why it’s known as a theatre I have no idea.
    One Americanism that I really don’t like is the word ‘dove’. I’ve seen it a number of times and it’s a word we Brits would never use. For us it would be ‘dived’ as in ‘He dived straight in.’
    Dove bloody irritates me. Hee-hee.
    Keep up with the interesting blog posts. (or should that be mails)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think we have operating ‘Theatres’ because they started out as theatres in the round. Students would sit on tiered seats to watch and learn from the surgeon wielding his saw! I think there is an original theatre preserved in London. I had an audience when I had my first caesarean – awake – it was a teaching hospital.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I have seen operating theatre in books. Thanks for the reminder! As for dove, I wasn’t even aware of that one, but before adding it, I need to research it first and see if it’s a difference between our countries or if it’s being used incorrectly. Riley wrote a blog post on hanged and hung, and it turns out it’s often written wrong!

      The only thing that annoys me is when I see “in hospital.” Everything else is fine, just a difference between us, no big deal, but “in hospital” drives me nuts! Why isn’t it THE hospital? It sounds so weird to me! Lol.

      Liked by 1 person

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