In which I agree with a commenter

Pixelfish had this to say in comments. I could not let it languish there:

At what point did publishers start getting anal about the usage variations between the US and all other English speaking countries? Because my original copies of the Chronicles of Narnia had English spellings, but my new ones don’t and are in the wrong order. My Canadian copies of Harry Potter have the Britishisms intact, even though they don’t use all the slang, but the US ones don’t. I liked it better when US YA publishers let me find out MORE about the world instead of LESS. Part of the reason I read was to get away from my perfectly safe little Utah neighbourhood. But I digress . . . oh boy, howdy, do I digress.

I have no idea when that started. But it is a Very. Bad. Thing. I disapprove. HEARTILY.

Back at home I grew up with books with Commonwealth spelling and also with USian spellings. So Enid Blyton & Patricia Wrightson = colour. Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys = color. Though sometimes the punctuation would be changed.

I really hate the way many US publishers USianise things. I was just reading the US edition of an Australian book set in Oz with Oz characters. Except that the characters compared things to the size of a dime. (We don’t have dimes in Australia.) They discussed each others height in feet and inches. (Australia is metric.) The distances they drove were in miles. (Ditto. We have kilometres.) They used no Aussie slang. Everything that could be even a tiny bit confusing to a US reader was changed.

It drove me crazy. I stopped reading the book. I’ll read the Australian edition when I go home.

How stupid do publishers think readers are? We can figure stuff out from context. If we don’t know stuff we can look it up. Part of the fun of reading a book set in a different country is learning about the differences. Changing the spelling, adding “dimes” and “quarters”, removing all the local slang, wrecks the flavour and rhythm of the book. I think it’s a dreadful editorial decision and I wish they’d stop doing it.

Er, what you said, Pixelfish.


  1. khy on #

    I dun like it when the slang is removed either. I like using the slang all the time in real life and confusing people. But I can’t do that when they remove the slang! Argh.

  2. Ted Lemon on #

    This seems to me to be an artifact of the whole regional rights problem you were talking about here a few months ago. Why do you have to wait until you go back to Oz to get the Oz version of the book? That’s just not right.

    Admittedly, it could cut both ways – if there were no regional rights, perhaps the book would never have been published in the original Australian. But of course that’s where digital publishing comes in.

    Pretty much all of the complaints you’ve made about the publishing industry in the past week or so are artifacts of the current rather byzantine publishing landscape. Stet wars? They’re because the copyrighter works for the publisher, not for you.

    I apologize for straying from the topic, but I think these artifacts of The Way Things Are Done are quite interesting, and I’m curious to see how they will play out as the publishing industry continues to morph in the coming decades.

  3. Ted Lemon on #

    er, copyeditor. sigh. oh, the irony…

  4. Mat on #

    I worked as an editor for an Australian publisher and had to “Australianise” US work. Mostly it was ok — until I hit some fiction in which the characters described a window being “five feet from the ground” and all the people described were of very exact heights in feet. After quickly deciding “He was 1.72 metres tall” looked ridiculous, I then realised changing “sidewalk” to “footpath” and “cell” to “mobile” was killing the American-ness of the book.

    The problem of course was that the kids in the book were still Americans but now were using non-American words. Parts of their dialogue were Aussie and parts were American.

    After that I became anti-changing-it-to-suit-any-country-at-all. Books are meant to take us out of the places we live – and that includes taking us to a new world of dialogue.

    And guess what? We had NO GOOD REASON for Australianising the books. There was some mumble-mumble-Australian-market-mumble but the whole process wasn’t based on any evidence.

    I’ll bet you the first HP book changing to Sorcerer’s Stone from Philosopher’s Stone came about because some dim-bulb had a conversation in the corridor for less than a minute and it went like this:

  5. Malcolm Tredinnick on #

    Initially I thought of a couple of ways this was defensible, just to be contrary, but I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I agree with pixelfish and Justine. Did the American edition of Lord of The Rings remove the shire because it was a British concept? Does Shakespeare get rewritten because he used a lot of words that we don’t use today? Some of the Narnia books use kings and queens as characters. Are they replaced with a president in the American editions? Wouldn’t it confuse people otherwise? Leave C.S.Lewis alone!

    Sounds like those editors have their work cut out for them. Or they could stop treating readers like idiots and reduce costs all at the same time.

  6. simmone on #

    i know. i feel really bad about it. next time i will fight harder … it’s very terrible to have aboriginal names and ‘mom’ on the same page.(tho I still read a review that called my book very ‘aussie’ and the reviewer said sometimes she didn’t know what people were saying…) also it’s not just the editors who have their work cut out for them b/c in most cases the author has to make the changes (with heart sinking at first and then just feeling like a nihilist …)

  7. lori on #

    Great topic, and I agree wholeheartedly. I want my kids (and me) to learn more about the world by reading. Aren’t books supposed to expand our horizons and imaginations? I had no idea the Harry Potter books had been edited for U.S. slang. I’d much rather have the original texts — of all books!

  8. Justine on #

    Not all USian editions of books are USianised. I can think of several that keep slang intact and provide a glossary at the back.

    And ironically my book, HTDYF, is in the middle of being Australianised, which is how I wrote it originally . . .

  9. Laurie on #

    As several have pointed out, it goes both ways–I’ve got British copies of Anastasia Krupnik and Ramona Quimby books that have been Anglicized, which reads silly since the characters live in Massachusetts and Oregon, respectively.

    I learned lots of Aussie slang from reading John Marsden. Never knew what a chook was before that. (The American editions of the Tomorrow series include a glossary.)

  10. robin on #

    i know i weighed in on the opposite side of this the other day, just out of knee-jerk contrarianism, but when you put it that way, i’m forced to admit: yeah, of course. that does suck.

  11. Tim on #

    I have to confess, one of my favourite parts of the MoM books was the banter between the Australians and the Americans about language differences. I laughed because most of those things were conversations I’d had with online friends. My personal favourites are:

    “How’re you going?”
    “How am I going where?!”

    “Good on ya!”
    “I have some good on me?”

    “What’s been your biggest screw-up at work?”
    “My biggest WHAT?!”

    (Hi, by the way. Long time lurker first time poster.)

  12. Amber on #

    I’ve been known to Go On about this, as a bit of a Tim Winton harlot, but a New Zealand Herald reviewer’s problem with his ‘heavy-handed Australianisms’ made me need to go and lie down in a darkened room.

    Oh, NZH! _Here’s_ the point. *moves ten kilometres/6.2 miles/ eleventy-four square cubits away* And _here’s_ you, missing it.

  13. E. Kristin Anderson on #

    I so fully agree! I LOVE LOVE learning about other countries, and that’s part of the reason I enjoy Georgia Nicolson (okay, she’s also hilarious and goofy and…) – they keep her true to her culture. And of course I’m thrilled that your Magic or Madness series (that admittedly I havevn’t read yet but they’re on the top of the pile) have two full sets of grammar and slang. I read Melina Marchetta’s latest a few weeks ago and in retrospect all the punctuation and spellings were US standard…but they did keep some slang that I had to look up for myself. It’s a lovely book, either way, but I do wish they’d give us YA readers a little more credit.

  14. Book Chic on #

    I’m a bit confused by the “wrong order” of the Narnia books; it’s not a wrong order at all. Go here to find out more:

    At least I hope that’s what Pixelfish was referring to because that’s the only way I can think of the books being in the wrong order.

    Anyway, I agree that stuff shouldn’t be changed to suit a specific country. If you have a huge problem with the language and slang being used, just put in a glossary (like in the Georgia Nicolson books or in HTDYF) and then the readers can look it up in the back of the book for themselves if they’re confused. And that way, the actual novel itself isn’t changed and readers aren’t confused by anything.

    Good post, Justine (and Pixelfish)! 🙂

  15. emmaco on #

    Mat I never knew there were Australianised books! I always enjoyed reading both US and UK books with their original cultural references and spelling in Australia. I would have guessed the USian ones that had been changed were UK editions of US books.

  16. Melinda on #

    Amber please don’t think the NZ Herald reviewer represents all kiwi readers. Its ‘vair’ (wot I learnt from reading Louise Rennison and borrowed to use myself cos i’m not afraid of foreign words and I like it vair much) frustrating that we get the fully US books and the fully Australian and UK books but have to change our books if we want them to travel to those countries. Hrumph.

  17. Lil on #

    I completely agree. This is why I’m trying to build up my collection of HP British editions. And then in turn trying to re-read those. I don’t have a complete set yet, but I’m only 3 books away!

    (I also have the Russian version but not being fluent in Russian, I’m not sure how different it is…)

    I’ve been reading so much in “British” that the other day at work, I wrote “Fall Favorites” as “Favourites” and had to correct “behviour” in a paper because Word didn’t like the spelling.

  18. Mike on #

    “The Americans and the British are identical in all respects except, of course, their language”. Oscar Wilde

    I will however refrain from saying anything about a country whose president did not have a valid passport when he was elected.

    PS, Lil, I think you will find that the word is ‘autumn’.

  19. Sarah Rees Brennan on #

    I agree with everyone! I am now re-Britishising my book for the UK edition, and finally the spellings look correct and do not blaze with heathen outlaw zs…

  20. kris on #

    I agree with you as well. Leave well enough alone already. I noticed this last year while rereading the Harry Potter series. In the first books everything is changed, but later on some is left in. The spelling of oi for instance, it’s oy in the first 4-5 books, but the last one or two use oi properly. Strange. Like that would change understanding? But anyway…

  21. kris on #

    oh, and the only British books I DO like changed for us crazy USians are Jamie Oliver cookbooks – because we are silly & use cups & such. 🙂

  22. Amber on #

    Melinda: I promise I don’t. Y’are sweet as.


  23. cuileann on #

    Rargh! Srsly.

  24. Meredith H. on #

    Argh! I can’t stand Americanizations. What, American kids are so dumb that they won’t understand different words from context? The implicit thought behind it all enrages me. I remember Enid Blyton’s Famous Five teaching me torch and lorry and boot and bonnet, as a nine-year-old, and I certainly didn’t have any more trouble with that than learning other words from context (which you are pretty much doing continually as a child).

    The two changes that had me fairly incoherent were the change from Philosopher’s Stone (which is a real historical term) to Sorcerer’s Stone (which is a nonsense term) because Americans can’t possibly learn any history; and Bridget Jones’ Diary, whose charm was reduced by the change in measurements from stones and grams to pounds and ounces; and the transformation of the answerphone into the answering machine; &-sundry-c. All of it, to my mind, completely unnecessary.

    Reading a different sort of English gives you a sense of a world outside yourself. Americans don’t need to feel more like the-rest-of-the-world-is-just-like-us. They need to experience the sense that wow, there is other culture, and I can understand it, and that’s pretty cool.

    (Okay, I will admit to one Americanization that I did not mind that was in the Harry P. books. Because I remember the time when my Welsh teacher (from Wales) in college told us to revise the textbook chapter for the next class. A heartstopping moment later, someone translated it to “review.” ;-))

  25. Meredith H. on #

    @Lil 17: Did you know there is such a thing as Russian Harry Potter fanfic? Well, it stands to reason. But I follow an lj community called hp_britglish, which is an entirely interesting forum where non-British people (Americans, pretty much) ask all sorts of language and societal questions about Britain in order to portray it accurately in their fanfic. A couple of months ago a spokesperson for a group of dedicated Russian HP fanfic writers asked a number of questions in a charming post.

    I’m mostly charmed by the phrasing and the nature of the questions; but also by the fact that these people are writing fanfic on a book in a foreign country. I’m outraged by the notion that Americans can’t appreciate the Philosopher’s Stone; but have to humbly say that most Americans wouldn’t have read a book translated from the Russian and been so enthralled that they learned some Russian in order to ask all about what Russia was like 10-20 years ago. We need to come a longer way. (And, damnit, leaving British and Australian and New Zealand writing like it is would help that!)


  26. eth on #

    Here’s another version of this. I thought I’d listen to the sample on of a new fiction book by an Australian author (The household guide to dying, by Debra Adelaide).

    My ear wasn’t happy. It wasn’t happy at all. And then I realised: the narrator/reader isn’t Australian. She’s bunging on her version of an Australian accent, with a faint, deadly whiff of Cockney and a New Zealandish flattening here and there.

    If they’re going to let the book’s international audiobook version have an Australian accent, why not hire someone who can do an authentic Aussie accent, rather than a simulacrum/pastiche like this? I think, from checking, that the reader is an English-born actress; her other narrating gigs on Audible are in English accents and don’t, to my ear, sound dicky.

    I won’t be investing in this audiobook – they lost me at hello, with their daft choice of narrator (in this day and age they couldn’t organise an Australian actress/reader? – we do have a few, here and there.)

    With the Harry Potter audiobooks, I believe that the Americans think their American reader is quite wonderful, while the English think highly of Stephen Fry. And never the twain…

    As a kid, the oddities of American kidlit – the dimes and vacations and soda fountains and drugstores – were a lovely adventure, and not in the slightest disorienting or disturbing.

  27. eth on #

    Oh, and yet another example: a while ago the Yarn Harlot (a popular knitblogger), who lives in Canada, is Canadian and thus uses Canadian/British/Australian spelling – colour, autumn, realise – apparently had commenters on her blog ‘correcting her spelling’ (ie. to US usages). Hello?!?

    Although she did write an amusing riposte. Snort.

  28. Lauren on #

    Count me horrified and insulted that any publisher would think readers (especially young readers) were incapable of learning new phrases in context. There’s something profoundly disturbing about this. I’m an American married to a Brit and I’m glad to have added the words “chuff,” “tosspot,” and “wanker” to my vocabulary. Why in the world would any one want to limit a reader’s world that way? American fiction is itself full of regionalisms. They’re not re-phrasing Twain, are they? I’d kill them.

  29. Justine on #

    I would love to hear from a publisher who does this as to why they do it. Do unUSianised/UKised/Ozified books really do less well?

  30. pixelfish on #

    Heh, I come back to find out I have provoked an entire topic on Justine’s blog. Yay!

    The Philosopher’s Stone change is one of those ones that particularly irked. Publishers said, “Well, kids won’t understand the title.” Well, they will once they read the book. There used to be this educational aspect to reading that went just beyond whatever lessons the publisher and author obliquely intended. You got to learn about concepts and other places and customs.

    Also, I have to note that Elizabeth Enright’s Gone Away Lake (1957) features a whole chapter about the philosopher stone concept. Which I didn’t know about until I read the book. But never once did I go, “Gee, I don’t know what they’re talking about. Guess this book sucks. I’m not going to read it.” I think there’s some underestimating how much persistance and thirst for knowledge kids have.

  31. pixelfish on #

    Book chic: re – Narnia – I’m afraid I’m one of those folk who read in publication order, and yes, I disagree with Lewis, or stand by the explanation that he was trying to humour somebody. I think the whole series reads better that way, partly because I think that the creation of Narnia only means something to somebody who is already in love with it, and the death of Narnia in the last book is that much stronger for being juxtaposed to its birth. The introduction of Narnia via the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is also a better beginning than the Magician’s Nephew. So when I got my last boxed set (my first boxed set as an adult) I put them back in the preferred reading order.

    Anyways, you’ll note that the movie makers agree with me too, as we didn’t start with The Magician’s Nephew. 😉

    Eth: English people get Stephen Fry to read their audio versions of HP? UNFAIR. Revolt! Revolt! I want Stephen Fry!

    (At least nobody has suggested that an American reader should read the Terry Pratchett audio books. It’s been Nigel Planar and Stephen Briggs, and my boyfriend loves ’em both to death, although he notes Briggs is more consistent with the voices.)

  32. Liviania on #

    I really enjoyed this entry, because -izing books has always bothered me. I remember the first time I was exposed to British punctuation – I thought it odd of the author until I realized that was how everyone in the UK did it and publishers had been keeping me ignorant of this fact.

    I adored reading John Marsden’s books and learning all sorts of exciting new words. Heck, I love learning new slang from the internet. If I know a book has been changed I try to find an original-country copy at the second-hand bookstore. (Some of my friends who have gone abroad bought copies of books they already owned for comparison purposes. HP 2 UK version beats HP 2 US Version for the words “great dirty snake.” It’s “great big snake” in the US which is clearly 10x less awesome.)

    @Book Chic: My CoN is either my mom’s or my dad’s and it’s in the proper order. Publication order works far better than chronological. Besides, if you really wanted to be chronological you’d have to stop a little before the end of Wardrobe, read Horse & His Boy, then finish Wardrobe.

    @Meredith H.: As a reader of Russian sci-fi, I find your comment slightly unfair. I research the setting and ask questions of the Russians I know, but I can only speak a little Russian and will never be the slightest bit literate in the language. Learning a new alphabet is tough. Russian schools teach English before the critical age. English schools don’t. A lot of that fault lies with the school system, not with the readers.

  33. Book Chic on #

    Pixelfish and Liviania- I’m not saying one is better than the other, just that both orders are correct. One isn’t wrong and the other is right- they’re both right. I was mainly just trying to say that unless the books were like “1) The Last Battle, 2) A Horse and His Boy, 3) The Silver Chair, etc.”, it’s not the “wrong order” by any means.

    It’s like Star Wars- you can watch it as Eps.4-6, then 1-3, or watch them as 1-6. Both orders are correct and fine to watch in either order. I’d imagine it’s the same with Narnia.

    As for the CoN movies, of course they would’ve started with LWW and not Magician’s Nephew. More people have heard of and read LWW than MN. I have problems remembering the other titles because more focus is put on LWW than any other book in the series.

  34. Carbonel on #

    The claim that Lewis preferred the new, or as I prefer to call it “bolluxed up” order is a base lie a bit misleading. Lewis wrote, that one could certainly read them in the non-standard order, not that one must. The best way, of course, is simply to alternate orders in subsequent re-reads.

    But to the English- and American- and Autrailian-izing of books, I would say that, while the translator is often (usually) a traitor (It’s more allitertive in the original Italian) translations are not necessarily bad things. Which is why a good editor is above rubies.

    Where the whole sense of the word, or sentence or even section of the book will be spoilt if one does not know both idioms, the wise editor will attempt a translation. Preferably by someone who is bilingual. But less, very, very much less, is definitely more.

  35. Misrule on #

    I thought this practice was a thing of the past, done to death when readers from the US discovered the changes made to the first few HP books. And I certainly didn’t know Australian publishers Aussified US books.

    I have less of a problem with standardising spelling in different editions, but other changes I can’t hold with at all!

    As for the order of the Narnia books: what Pixelfish said. I hate that they have been numbering them in chronological order, ergardless of what Lewis may or may not have said. (Writers can be wrong about their books, she says, ducking.)

    Very cool about Alien Onion–both the blog and your new home with them. Yet another one to add to the feedreader!

  36. Allie on #

    I agree completely. I tend to prefer the UK versions, and I live in the US. It’s the worst, in my opinion, when they dumb it down for the second version. And on websites too – I use UK English Facebook and the front page changes from (UK) “Facebook gives you the power to share and makes your world more open and connected.” to US “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”
    Is there even a point to changes like that?

  37. sylvia_rachel on #

    I agree — oh, how I agree!

    In general I am not much bothered by spelling changes, because I grew up in this very peculiar place called Alberta, where we were taught at school — I am not making this up — that both (e.g.) colour and color were equally correct in Canada and we could use whichever we liked, as long as we didn’t switch back and forth within the same piece of writing. But spelling changes that affect pronunciation distract and irritate me — I cannot be doing with Ginny Weasley shouting “Mommy! Mommy!” as she runs along Platform 9 3/4 — and the more drastic forms of US/Brit/Whatever-ization distract and irritate me very much indeed.

    I am fortunate to live in Canada, where separate editions of US and British books are very rarely published (the HPs were an exception, but the Canadian editions were identical to the UK ones, so not really), which means you can get the original edition, whatever it happens to be. And then you learn new things.

    I read a great deal of British and otherwise non-USian fiction, and as a result have developed over the years a tendency to use expressions such as “dead chuffed” and “I’ll ring you on your mobile later”. My (USian) mother thinks I’m being pretentious,* but I’m not really — just, as I’ve always done in conversation, adapting to my linguistic surroundings. I love discovering new expressions and words (in Saskatchewan a hoodie is called a “bunny hug!” “Sweet tea” in certain parts of the US is actually what we in Canada call ice(d) tea! “Pants” are trousers in North America but undertrou in the UK! In the US it’s rude to say “*ss”, and in the UK it’s rude to say “f*nny” [I think we can all deduce what the missing vowel is, yes?]! What fun!!), and I resent the idea that readers will not read books that challenge their cultural assumptions. It’s silly.

    *My (also USian) father has considered me pretentious for most of my life because I use many of my mother’s Connecticut Yankee pronuciations instead of his Michigander ones. You just can’t win sometimes.

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