What in the World Do You Mean?

© 2010 Shirley M. Corder

I had just joined my first on-line writers’ group. Eager to become involved, I requested advice. I used an innocent, everyday word here in South Africa, which I quickly learned means something totally different and not at all nice in America.

Once the group recovered, they took great delight in correcting me. If the article had gone to my planned Christian market, my guess is I wouldn’t have written for them again. To write for the global market, I soon realized I needed to learn International English.

For example, if you live in North America, you probably know the wattle is the flabby skin at the throat of the turkey. Yet if you are in Australia, the golden wattle is your national flower. If you live in Britain, you may have a simple wattle fence, while in Africa many of the locals live in mud-and-wattle rondawels, or circular houses.

As a South African writing for the International market, I have learned a number of important principles. Here are three suggestions.

Clarify your meaning. “Please pick a cluster of wattle from the tree,” the Australian writer could say. “The yellow will brighten the table and it smells so pleasant.” The international reader will get the picture.

Interact with writers from other countries. If you write an article or book based in another land, please, please check your facts with a local writer. For example, in America, cars drive on the pavement. Try that in South Africa or Britain and you will find yourself in court. In these countries, the pavement is reserved for pedestrians.

Watch your spelling and punctuation. South African and Australian English is similar to British English. But when I write for an American market, I have to remember to realize instead of realise, see colors and not colours, and to say that I traveled and not travelled. I also need to remember to put my periods and commas “outside the quotations marks”, for British magazines and “inside,” for USA editors. If I write for an American market, I use “double quotation marks” when making a quotation, and ‘single quotation marks’ if I put another quotation inside the first one. For a British market, I do the opposite.

There’s a whole global market out there interested in what we have to say. As writers, we just need to ensure they know what in the world we are saying.

Shirley Corder has published several hundred articles and devotions in a number of different countries. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for Your Journey through Breast Cancer, is due to be published by Baker Publishing House in 2012. For more information on writing for the international market, follow the new thread on her website www.ShirleyCorder.com or follow her on Twitter.


Below are more differences between British English (BE) and American English (AE):

BE: Babies wear nappies;  AE: Babies wear diapers.

BE: The bathroom contains a bath, not necessarily a toilet;  AE: The bathroom always contains a toilet, not necessarily a  bathtub.

BE: You walk on the pavement and drive in the road; AE: You drive on the pavement and walk on the sidewalk.

BE: Biscuits are crisp snacks, similar to the AE: cookies;  AE: Biscuits are a type of bread served with savoury foods, rather like the BE: scones.

BE: A trunk is a large metal box, which you might put into the boot of your car; AE: The trunk is the storage section of your car.

BE: The engine is under the bonnet;  AE: It’s under the hood.

BE: You go to hospital for an operation in theatre; AE: You go to the hospital for surgery in the operating room.

BE: The kids may play in the garden; AE: They play in the yard.

BE: We may go on holiday in our caravan;AE: We go on vacation in our travel trailer.



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