Royale With Cheese

Everyone knows the scene between John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction about the little differences between nations—even the way the world sees a burger from Mickey D’s.  As a foreigner in this fair land, I’ve had to assimilate to a certain extent.  Where I’ve had to change most is in language.  My accent catches an ear (and always will.  I ain’t changing it for you guys) but the words that I say snag at times.  If I talked as I would with friends back in England, most Americans would be lost.  So I listen.  It’s quite amazing how different English-English is from American-English.  It’s  surprising how much word usages change even within California.  There are NorCal turns of phrase and SoCal turns of phrase.

My travels have been bouncing me between southern and northern California recently and I’ve noticed the little differences.  Take freeway speak.  In SoCal someone is likely to say, “I took the Ten to the Four-Oh-Five.”  All very Robert Crais sounding, but Bobby C. would stick out San Francisco way, as if he’d just called the place, “Frisco.”  Bay Area folks will say, “I took I-80 to I-5.”  Northerners tend to use their I for their interstates.  Southerners tend not to.

This is a very conscious thought when it comes to writing and getting character dialog right.  Know thy people.  No wonder so many writers stick to their geographical locales.  It may be subtle but it sure does stick out when you’re wrong.

I noticed a little British/Irishism in Ken’s post from the other day.  Ken said “…when I had to go to hospital…”  Ding, ding, ding.  Ken omitted the word ‘the’ before hospital.  Brits and Irish drop the ‘the’.  I didn’t even notice I did this until Julie brought it up, because it drives her mental.  Americans tend to use English very formally.  The British twist and turn the language at every turn.  A friend of mine hates that I turn nouns into verbs.  Her all-time unfavorite is “are you gyming it tonight?”  Julie particularly hates it when I use ‘me’ instead of ‘my’, as in, “You got me keys?”

When I’m with American friends, I’ll slip into my Englishisms, but I’ll play it straight when I’m with strangers.  At least, that’s what I thought.  When I went home to England the other month, one of my chums mentioned, “You haven’t changed.  You sound just the same.”

Nice, I thought.  Mission accomplished.

“It’s just the words you use.  It’s straight American.”


It’s true though.  I have developed an American turn of phrase.  It’s an occupational habit.  I’ve forced myself to sound American.  Like a left-handed person trying to write right-handed, it’s going to stick after a while.

A few people have spotted Englishisms in Accidents Waiting to Happen and they are there.  It was originally written three months after I’d arrived in the US.  Some nine years later, readers won’t find similar errors.  I know me’s American lexicon, now.  Have no fear, guv’nor.  I sound dead yanky now, don’t I, like?

So I’m always listening to the way people speak.  Writing is theft most of the time and I’m stealing all the bloody time.  I could steer away from writing American settings, but where’s the fun in that?  That’s the cool thing about language.  It’s so changeable and malleable.  It’s the little differences, y’know.  Like a Royale with Cheese.

Happy eating,
Simon Wood

14 thoughts on “Royale With Cheese

  1. Jim Winter

    Funny you should mention that about interstates, Simon. My former editor at Quiet Storm sounded surprised when I kept referring to “I-480” and then three lines later, just “480.” Apparently in Texas, you don’t use the “I” at all, and he probably thought the shifting style was inconsistent.

    The English/Irishism that throws me is in reference to bands. For instance, to Americans and Canadians, Pink Floyd is a band once fronted by Syd Barrett. But in the UK and Ireland, Pink Floyd are mulling a reunion tour. I grew up thinking of bands as a single unit. So when I use their name, I use singular (though, confusingly, refer to most bands as “they,” as in Led Zeppelin is them.) In the UK, I’ve noticed that the band remains plural, even under the unit name. Marillion have a different lead singer these days. Coldplay are recording a new album. Radiohead are considered the new Pink Floyd.

    That one always throws me.

  2. Alex Sokoloff

    Simon, you’d be a stone fool to drop that dreamy accent and all your cute Britishisms. Work it, baby.

    You know someone’s not from California when they refer to “Cali” and “Frisco”.

    There’s a good chance they are if they say “you guys” for second person plural instead of “you” or “y’all”, or my favorite “All y’all” (Texas).

  3. B.G. Ritts

    When I moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania, aside from my northern accent, the regionalism of mine that most stood out was ‘redd’, as in: “I need to go home and redd up the house.” My friends apparently had mental images of me taking a spray can and painting my house red, instead of just going home and tidying up.

    I also grew up saying ‘worsh’ for wash, which also extended to Worshington.

  4. Laura Benedict

    I’ve never heard your voice, Simon. That seems funny to me. But I’m with Alex–you should definitely work it!

    I still mourn the loss of my Kentucky accent. Two years in public radio in St Louis did me in. They made fun of me until every syllable was flat and trans-American so that my voice is geographically unrecognizable. The only exception is when I’m back among Southerners–it seems to come right back.

    Treasure your own diversity!

  5. Fran Friel

    Simon – I’m with Jim, stick with your Britishness full-stop. *wink* I’m sad that Paul’s Scottish accent and colloquialisms are softening. He’d already altered them to live in England. I think most Americans find accents very endearing. There’s a weird tendency to correct misuse of words over hear though. Paul has reported it, and I’ve found myself doing it. It seems to be automatic, but I don’t think it’s meant (in most cases) to make you change your native-speak, but rather just to point out the difference. Weird habit, though.

    Personally, I love the differences. One of my favorites Paul uses is The Work…”I’m calling the work.” And I get a kick out of it when his father calls me, Hen. As you mentioned for the English (and as I’m sure you know), the Scots have their own language…Scottish Gallic English.

    Great post, Simon. I hope you always stay English-English, baby! Very yummy stuff.


  6. JT Ellison

    Having heard that lovely accent, I concur with X. Work it.

    You raise such an excellent point about regional colloquialisms. My favorite southern one is “I got out of the bed.” That’s a very Nashville term that I’d never heard before. My copyeditor tried to strike it in every instance, but that’s one of those little details that give the books a Southern flavor.

  7. Louise Ure

    I did my own adapting, Simon, when I lived in Australia. Like you, I kept my own voice, but added in Australian phrasing. Not to be coy, just to be understood.


  8. pari

    Soda or Pop?Hey or Hi?

    Every place had its -isms and they’re fascinating.

    In NM, almost everyone uses some Spanish, too. And the Spanish speakers use Spanglish here all the time.

    Very cool post.

    And Simon does both the accent AND the wit well.

  9. Naomi

    When I went to school in Northern Cal, all I heard was “The City, The City.” What the heck? Wasn’t where we lived on the Peninsula a “city.” Leave it to San Franciscans to deem themselves as the one and only.

  10. Robert Gregory Browne

    I’ll always remember a friend from back east who called an ice cream parlor a creamery, and an iron was called a flat.

    Then there’s those back east who wait for a movie by standing “on” line, while we here on the west coast stand “in” line.

    Go further west to Hawaii and you’ll find a combination of American, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian and Portuguese phrases….


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *