books · Writing, language

Lost in Translation

Ah English. Such a varied language.

It’s no secret that I’m Australian, and hence write in Australian English, and thanks to living and working in Canada for 3 years, chuck a few Canadianisms in the mix for good measure.

I’ve been living here for 3 years and only recently realised that all those times I’ve been talking about my pot plants (sadly, I do this a bit too frequently) most people here think I’m talking about my little marijuana plants I’ve got growing away… which explains the weird look my boss gave me…

I only found this out (that’s B.C. for you, no one questions the fact I might be growing weed in my lounge room) when my lovely Canadian copy editor put a note on my manuscript that went along the lines of – “why did her mother give her marijuana?”


In Australian English a pot plant is a houseplant, a potted plant and no, I’m not growing any weed.

Other terms that threw my trusty editor were doona (an Aussie word for duvet) and ute (Aussie word for truck. Australian trucks are the big B-Double, lorry type vehicles).

The conversation about which version of English authors should write in comes up fairly frequently in Indie circles. There are two camps:

1. Write in American English no matter where you’re personally from, because America is the biggest market, and American’s have the biggest tendency to complain of “typos” when colour is spelt like that.

2. Write in your own nation’s  version of English. The rest of the world deals with figuring out Americanisms just fine. It’s nice to read a book set in Australia or New Zealand, or the UK and actually have it authentic and maybe learn a few new words and phrases. (When I was a kid I always wondered what the American fascination with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, thinking that they put jello-jelly on them, not jam-jelly, but I figured it out eventually, and that was in pre-internet days.)

I fall pretty firmly in the second camp. I do try not to put in anything too confusing, or that will give the reader the complete wrong idea (like the pot plant thing, I changed that to actually naming the species of plant – I didn’t want to put it the North American way either.)

Although I might one day write a scene where a girl has lost her thong… just to mess with non-Aussies 😉

That happened to me when I first moved to Canada. Ran around the house all in a tizz, yelling out “Has anyone seen my thong? Do you know where my thong is??”

Housemate: “Er… in your underwear draw?”

Me: Why on earth would it be there?!

Flip-flop, people. Or Jandle if you’re my Kiwi friend.


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