Monday Musings: Britishisms—and how they can affect your global reach.


As a British author, who writes novels/stories set in England, with English characters, it comes naturally to me to use British words or terms. But what affect can that have on how a book is received when the reach of its readership is on a global scale?

I would like to be able to argue that it has no affect but I’d be lying if I did so—especially when the use of certain words (ones quite valid in the Oxford English Dictionary) are pointed out in reviews or in direct conversation by folk who have read my stuff.

Yep, I’m talking about those dreaded ‘st’ sounds on the ends of words.

Primarily, it’s adding to while to create whilst (though I could argue everyone else dropped it rather than us adding it), or amongst over among/amidst over amid.

It seems (some of) my International readers have a real issue with these words stumbling their flow.

Whilst (ha!) the reviewers who bring this up are in the minority, I can’t ignore a tweet I spotted from an author whose work I’ve had the chance to view and loved, citing her dislike (translate: hate) of the word ‘whilst’ (and if she calls in here, she’ll know I’m talking about her, and will likely throw shoes at me across the pond—eeek!).

Anyhoo, although her tweet was (seemingly) random and was not in reference to my work, it still got me to thinking about my own personal use of it. It also led to a debate with my publisher.

In case you’re wondering, it’s a debate I lost.

You see, whilst (hehehe) all Holloway Pack stories written from Jem’s POV use this word, as do the shorter works written from Sean’s POV (and my short for the Make Believe antho: Escort to Insanity), I argued that not ALL Brits add on the ‘st’ sound and speak this way.

I’ll admit, I initially wrote all of Jem’s dialogue/narration with this/these words included because that is how I speak, so it came naturally to me for my character to speak this way, also. And I’m hardly alone—many other Brits speak this way, despite one reviewer asking if ‘whilst’ was even a word. O_O

But my argument to my editor went along the lines of

‘How about if we switch it up for the male members of the pack, seeing as they sound a little less refined than Jem anyway?’

to which the final response was

‘No!’

And the bits in the between consisted of

‘You need to stay true to who you are as a writer, true to who your characters are, and true to the setting of your stories.’

So, it would seem the word ‘whilst’ will be staying.

But how about you guys? Do certain words trip you up when reading? Which do you think is more important: creating authentication … or generalising to appeal to a broader audience?

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19 thoughts on “Monday Musings: Britishisms—and how they can affect your global reach.

  1. Interesting to see how you think about this. I actually don’t realy mind if authors use certain british words or not. I actually didn’t even realize that you used different words, I mean every book is different and I don’t really pay attention to which words are used or not. Although I do like it sometimes when authors overemphasizes someone’s background, like a character who comes from texas and uses the phrase y’all. So I think it can add to the story.

    1. I like to see accents reflected in dialogue, too, Lolita–so long it isn’t in over-abundance and totally distracting. It adds to their character, I think. 🙂

  2. You’re characters are from Brittain, I expect them to say whilst and if they didn’t they would sound “foreign.” If they were from Alaska, they’d be say’in freak’n every five seconds.

    1. LOL, Sheryl. I love the word Freaking–but I’d have to practice at shortening it because I’m quite annoying with my pronunciation of everything, hehehe. Thanks. 🙂

  3. This is a really interesting post, something that I come up against all the time. I am sympathetic of different cultures and their alternate spelling of certain words, so I always wonder why some readers are incapable of similar acceptance.

    If you’re writing a story set in Britain with British characters and written by a British author, you have to keep the spelling British. 🙂

  4. Although whilst and amongst suits Jem and clearly stamps the work as British, I see your point about the boys, especially the modern guys, I imagine wouldn’t say amongst or whilst, my husband certainly doesn’t. I wouldn’t feel the need to change it for the sake of interpretation though only if it fits with the characters.

    As for stumbling blocks to reading I hate the word reverie, for some reason I can’t say it in my head and it stalls my reading every time, some might say it snaps me out of my reverie *snickers* : )

  5. Being as I’ve been on a lot of messageboards with people from all over the world plus a boss who lived in London for a bit, I love the opporttunity to learn new words. Iwhen I see words used like ‘whilst’ and ‘colour’, I know that the author is from across the pond. I wouldn’t want them to change it because I’m American. Especially if the characters are from that country. If I’m writing something and the characters are from another country, I can’t have them speak like they’re Americans now can I?

    I don’t mind it, I giggle a lot though.

  6. Differences in spelling and wording don’t bother me . Truthfully, I hardly notice. I assume the writer (therefore characters) speak the way that is natural to them. Who am I, as the reader, to tell someone how to talk. If the book is good, it’s good. I don’t care how they speak unless I can’t understand them. 🙂 Maybe it’s because I’m from Atlanta, where the population is so diverse, but I love different dialects, in writing, too. It’s spice to me! 🙂

  7. I notice the Britishisms the first few times I see them. I always pause if I don’t already know the setting is NOT the USA (I know, I know, very arrogant to start with this assumption), flip to the author’s bio, read that he or she is from England, Canada, Australia, etc, shrug then move on. So, while I am removed from the story if only briefly to re-calibrate, it doesn’t affect my ultimate opinion of the story.

    That said, I really HATE “arse”. I’ve tried and tried and read it a zillion times but it always seems wrong to me. LOL Whilst I like. Amongst I already use and didn’t realize was a Britishism. Ditto amidst. I also never mind the extra u in words like colour or labour. But my staff includes many Canadians so I’m more used to it.

  8. Have to say I’m a stickler for ‘correct English’ (whether I’m reading Brit or US stuff)!
    Losing the ‘u’ in things like ‘color’, I can deal with! (read so much US stuff for years that I’m immune to it now!!)
    But, writing British characters in a British situation, by a British author – ummmm….. then I say, US peeps, suck it up!
    We do it for you (and don’t complain); so you do it for us….pretty please 🙂

    BTW: it DOES add to the ‘atmosphere’ of the story, and I think most US peeps DO accept the ‘anomalies’, eventually, so………..OK, yell at me, I don’t mind 🙂

    Hugs
    Carole-Ann

    1. LOL, Carole-Ann. Actually, the amount of US readers who don’t comment on the word ‘whilst’ in their reviews far outweighs the number who do–which was one of my publishers arguments. And you’re right: We ARE very accepting of the US way of writing. 🙂

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