Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A common language

Living in three different English-speaking countries at various times of my life has been confusing, linguistically. You'd think not, given that English is English. (Should I use US or British spelling on this blog?) I wrote my first novel using British English spelling because I had no idea it would end up with an American publisher, and because Microsoft Word is set up for British spelling. When I moved to the US, I switched Word to American English and changed the manuscript from top to tail, including the laborious process of changing all the single speech marks to double.

Now I'm back in Australia, and Microsoft Word gives me those red squiggly lines under all the American spellings in my new SF manuscript. I'm also writing a fantasy set in England and really feel like sticking with British spelling. More than that, I want to use English words and phrasing. The problem there is that I'm starting to forget exactly which terms are English, which are Australian, and which are American. Where does "dob someone in" come from? My American friends had no idea what this means. Australians dink and hoon and eat pavlova and pikelets, but I don't think the Brits do. They're busy eating crumpets and English muffins, which of course they call just muffins. American kids play with Legos (Lego) and put their babies in diapers (nappies) and cribs (cots) and give them a pacifier (dummy) to keep them quiet. Brits and Aussies have cars with bonnets and boots, not hoods and trunks, and they run on petrol not gas (except when they run on gas).

Here we live in flats and bedsits, or houses with nature strips. Water comes out of the tap (faucet) and we keep our clothes in a wardrobe (closet). We pay rates and wait in a queue to tick boxes and go on the dole. We barrack for our footy team (well, I don't).

What exactly is that thing that runs alongside the road (which is made of asphalt there, tarmac in Britain, bitumen here)? Aussies call it a footpath, Brits a pavement, Americans a sidewalk. The first floor of a building is one up from the ground, not on the ground. At parties we bring a plate and at pubs we shout (when it's our turn). We cook (bake) with self-raising flour and castor sugar, neither of which I could find in American shops (stores). Is it fairy floss, candy floss, or cotton candy? What is catsup? What's a freshman? And what the hell is a hoagie?

Today I made flapjack. I know that means something else to Americans, although I'm not quite sure what, but I think it's the same thing to Aussies and Brits. To me, anyway, flapjack (never plural) is rolled oats, golden syrup, melted butter and brown sugar. MCP called it a "granola bar" (muesli bar) although it's really not. I'm pretty sure most Americans don't know what golden syrup is but here's the recipe anyway.

British (Aussie?) Flapjack
125 g butter
1/4 cup* golden syrup (I use half golden syrup, half treacle)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2.5 cups rolled oats

Melt butter, syrup and sugar in a saucepan. Stir in oats. Press firmly into greased 20cm square tin. Bake 20 mins at 180C. Cool completely before turning out. Cut into squares.

*A British/Australian cup measure is 250 mL, which is a couple of teaspoons more than the US cup measure, so Americans might want to use a bit more butter.


Tez Miller said...

"Australians dink" - what?

Flapjacks? I thought they were pikelets. But according to your recipe and photo, I'd just call them a "slice". Because I'm vague that way ;-)

A. B. Keuser said...

As confusing as this was at times I really enjoyed it. I love the differences in English words thoughout the countries that speak English, as well as the different spellings and especially the different pronucniations!

We Yanks think of pancakes when we hear the term flapjack - and I haven't the foggiest idea why.

Anonymous said...

Linguistics can be frustrating at times. Especially slang. I'm from the Midwest in the U.S. but I moved to the West Coast about 1 1/2 years ago.

I remember my first Australian Author. Marianne Curley. Where the characters wore jumpers and walked around outside with torches. I was so confused. I thought they had medieval torches that required fire and the characters were wearing overalls. Luckily in the back of the book they had an index of the slang.

Yeah. Flapjacks at least in the Midwest are considered to be pancakes.

USNessie said...

At first, I was all ready to say "Go ahead and use the Brit/Aussie language! We Americans will love it!" But the more examples I read, the more confused I got.

Oh, and to me, "flapjacks" are pancakes, but I might try the recipe and see how the family reacts!

Sam_Wiser said...

The recipe sounds awesome! Like oatmeal cookies but MORE sugar and NO flour to cut it. Can you use corn syrup for golden syrup?

Sara Creasy said...

Corn syrup isn't quite the same, as golden syrup comes from cane sugar not corn, but it might do. Maybe try light corn syrup.

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