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Critique and Editing > Regional unique words

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message 1: by Ann (new)

Ann | 50 comments This thread is for a discussion on whether authors should use unique terminology that 'trip up' or 'throw' a reader off.

In grade school, I was taught to read around the word or use the context to find meaning. Also, there is Google. The last book I read for the review series used words that were totally made up and at first it was difficult to understand exactly what was being said, but as the terms were used again and again, I learned that a yarma is a mammal that smells and is a source of milk. Whether it is a cow, sheep or goat doesn't take away from the story. I assumed that it was unique to the world since this world had two moons, I knew it wasn't earth.

So, now that I given my two cents worth, and I'm parched, I'm gonna find me a bubbler.


message 2: by Steve (last edited Jul 17, 2018 06:47AM) (new)

Steve Pillinger | 517 comments Mod
Thanks for starting this thread, Ann!

I think there are several different kinds of 'regional words' that we could consider: the one you mention in your post is clearly an author's made-up word in a sci-fi or fantasy story. That's something that's done deliberately as part of the story, and it's an interesting question how much such made-up words should be used before readers start struggling to follow.

Then there are genuine regional words used by authors who speak a different variety of English (such as Australian, American, Indian, etc.). This could be (1) deliberate, to give local colour: in which case the reader must decide whether this device is used appropriately or too much, just as with made-up words.

Or, (2), in many cases use of such regional words is not deliberate: the author doesn't realise that a normal word (for him or her) is unknown or very unusual to speakers of other varieties of English. Here the question is, who is the author's target audience? If the book is primarily for speakers of the same type of English, nothing need be done. Otherwise it may be helpful for reviewers to make him/her aware of such words.

And finally there are common everyday words that are spelt (spelled?) differently in different varieties of English. Here the question is for the reviewer: Is it appropriate to automatically treat that as a failing—which implies that all books 'ought' to be written in the reviewer's variety of English; or should the reviewer take the trouble to consult dictionaries and see whether the author is using a different brand of English, and make allowances for that?

There's my tuppence worth! Now I need a cuppa…


message 3: by David (new)

David Bergsland (david_bergsland) | 75 comments It's a real problem is my non-fiction books where editors usually don't speak the language. Things like a signature is a large sheet of paper folded down into multiple pages in a book, magazine, report, and the like. Leading is the line spacing. Things like this have made me swear off editors until I can find one who speaks the lingo.


message 4: by J.F. (new)

J.F. (jfrogers) | 49 comments My editor thought I was British because of my spelling usage. I had no idea! I guess I'm just that influenced by British authors.

Regarding characters using vernacular; as long as it's not overwhelming (i.e. too frequent that it pulls me from the story), I don't mind stopping to look it up, if necessary. It brings a new level of believability to the character. And when an author is creative enough to come up with an entirely new phrase based on the world they created that is easy to figure out, I'm even more impressed. I attempt to do that in small doses in my novel. I created the gachen by pulling from the sídhe and the Gaels and attempt to use some Scottish sayings as well as created ones.

But, I love words. My favorite author as a kid was Roald Dahl. I loved him for his creativity and his unique word usage such as, "a festering pustule of malignant ooze" from Matilda and "human beans" from The BFG. Genius!


message 5: by Steve (last edited Jul 17, 2018 07:24AM) (new)

Steve Pillinger | 517 comments Mod
David wrote: "It's a real problem is my non-fiction books where editors usually don't speak the language. Things like a signature is a large sheet of paper folded down into multiple pages in a book, magazine,..."

Haha! As a typesetter myself I'm totally with you there, David! I also have trouble getting people to understand the specialised meanings of 'signature', 'leading', 'tracking', 'backup' and so on. I don't write books about typesetting, but I can appreciate that you'd prefer an editor on the same wavelength.

It reminds me of Tolkien's trouble getting his editors to accept "dwarves" as the plural of "dwarf". As a linguist he was deliberately introducing the older form, but current dictionaries all said the plural of "dwarf" is "dwarfs", so his editors kept correcting it—while he kept rejecting the proofs until they finally knuckled under and accepted his alternative!


message 6: by Steve (new)

Steve Pillinger | 517 comments Mod
J.F. wrote: "My editor thought I was British because of my spelling usage. I had no idea! I guess I'm just that influenced by British authors..."

That must have been a shock, J.F.! I agree with the rest of your post, but what struck me was your final para where you talk about loving words. I think that's a very important point. Some people don't: words are just a means to an end. I've discovered the hard way that for that kind of person (who I don't condemn!—we're all different), words that are not immediately understandable are a nuisance: they pull you out of the story. I have a lot of made-up words in my book (in fact a made-up language) for the exact reason you give—that (for me) this adds a new level of believability. But some reviewers really marked me down for that. They felt it was a quite unnecessary obstacle to the easy flow of the story.

I'm quite prepared to admit, though, that I probably overdid the 'special language'—some might more easily have accepted it if it hadn't been quite so frequently used.

So I guess we all draw the line in different places when it comes to regional or made-up words!


message 7: by J.F. (last edited Jul 17, 2018 07:55AM) (new)

J.F. (jfrogers) | 49 comments Steve wrote: "So I guess we all draw the line in different places when it comes to regional or made-up words!"

Agreed 100%! I have a line where it becomes too much, though I couldn't tell you where that is. It depends so much on other factors. Since we're all so unique and have different preferences, what it great to one will annoy another. This is just another reason to be thick-skinned when it comes to reviews. While there are some things we have control over, reader preferences vary and are highly subjective.


message 8: by David (new)

David Bergsland (david_bergsland) | 75 comments This is why I quit complaining about "bad editing" unless the book is actually unreadable. I find many grammar rules are simply a personal opinion—depending upon who you sought as a reference most recently. I had someone flag one of my novels recently as poorly edited. So, I'm sensitive as they are self-edited through dozens of revisions and editions. But the things he was complaining about were not "wrong". He just didn't like what I used.


message 9: by Stan (new)

Stan | 288 comments Mod
Steve wrote: "I'm quite prepared to admit, though, that I probably overdid the 'special language'—some might more easily have accepted it if it hadn't been quite so frequently used."

I don't think you over did it with the language Steve. The Mindruler concerned me at first, where your new language was concerned. What I pleasantly discovered is that you translated every time you used that language, so I found myself at times trying to read the language and remember what it meant and at other times skipping over it. You used your new language in such a way that the reader had both options.

A friend of mine wrote a book set in Brazil. Since the author lived in Brazil and is fluent in Portuguese the book includes a fair amount of Portuguese. However, it is always translated in the context and never stumps the reader. The Rise of Ochosi is a pretty good first novel, if anyone is interested. It is Christian, but not speculative, fiction. Since it is set in Brazil and includes a bit of Afro-Spiritist religion, it may seem speculative to some.

I am currently reading Scaramouche. This book uses quite a bit of French, but usually just a word at a time. It has been years since I studied French, so some words I remember and some I don't. I'm reading in on Kindle and have touch screen instant dictionary, which makes looking up the French words a little easier.

Then, there are books like The Bourne Identity, which I read years ago (and do not recommend at this point in my life). The author includes full sentences and some dialogue (if memory serves) in French and German. Back when I read it, I didn't have the Kindle dictionary and was at a loss to understand any of the German and some of the French.

So, different authors deal language in different ways. As long as the book is understandable in context, I'm not picky where spelling and other languages are concerned.

My two cents, now, back to my cafe sem leite.


message 10: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 507 comments Mod
I love archaic language and continually get criticized for both the spelling and grammar of it in my writing. I also have difficultly with using words in my writing that means something very different in other English speaking countries such as pants, napkins, and bum. These are fine words in American English, but can be offensive in other countries. Language is a very dynamic and ever-changing thing. I try to read books with the assumption that the author made an intensional decision about what they wrote and then try to understand it.


message 11: by Steve (new)

Steve Pillinger | 517 comments Mod
Stan wrote: "I don't think you over did it with the language Steve. The Mindruler concerned me at first, where your new language was concerned. What I pleasantly discovered is that you translated every time you used that language..."

Thanks, Stan, I'm glad you saw it that way. Other reviewers got quite annoyed about it though. One commented that there were no places where I inserted Dûrian speech (the name of my invented language), that couldn’t have been covered by a simple statement that "They spoke Dûrian"! Obviously to him and others it was just a nuisance that slowed the story down.

But, as we've said already, different people draw the line in different places, and you can't please all the people all the time!

Thanks for the examples of other books where foreign languages are thrown in. I do feel that adds validity to a story involving speakers of other languages; and those who find it a nuisance are free to skim over it!

Enjoy your cafe sem leite, or café au lait, or kahawa na maziwa!


message 12: by Steve (new)

Steve Pillinger | 517 comments Mod
Lara wrote: "I try to read books with the assumption that the author made an intensional decision about what they wrote and then try to understand it..."

I think that's a great approach, Lara! Much better than automatically condemning an author for what could turn out to be perfectly correct grammar and spelling in a different variety of English.


message 13: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Salisbury | 224 comments Mod
I had to deal with spelling and grammar issues when I was editing Courage. I live in England, but my main market is in the US, along with my editor. Most of her revisions were concerning differences between the two varieties of English, and it took me a long time to decide how to deal with that.

I couldn't bring myself to publish a book that, to me and my family, would contain spelling errors, but at the same time, I didn't want to put off my readers. I tried to put out two versions, UK and UK based, but Amazon didn't like that idea, so I went with the UK version in the end, and I'm happy with my choice.

In terms of the differences, though, I was surprised at how may there are. It's not just spellings (colour/color, travelled/traveled, realise/realize, etc). There are also huge differences in comma usage and pronoun rules, which especially got me. Add in colloquialisms, and it's a minefield out there.

On a positive note, this thread has reminded me that I need to get my betas to check they understand all the terms and phrases. Also, I agree that it's good to receive private feedback when this does happen rather than being 'marked down' for it in a review.

I'm not going for any type of beverage now, because it's nearly 1am and I'm shattered. Night, all.


message 14: by Lara (new)

Lara Lee | 507 comments Mod
The US and UK use quotation marks differently as well. We use double quotes first, but in the UK we had to change everything to single quotes. Also, oxford commas went out of style in US for a while, but they are coming back after many humorous problems. There are also a lot of legitimate alternative spellings for words in the US that various editors don't seem to know about, such as grey vs gray, kneeled vs knelt, sneaked vs snuck. English is not nearly as systemized as most people imagine.


message 15: by Ann (new)

Ann | 50 comments Good point Lara, I've doubted myself on wondering if I've been in the wrong on some of those words!

I guess some of my gut reaction to the difference in honour and honor is 'seriously?!?' What is a 'u' or a 'z' among friends? And how much does that really trip someone up? I can see some words that are entirely different than a more common word, but I still would rather be challenged a bit and increase my own vocabulary than not.

I love hearing all your different beverages! For those of you not opposed to an occasional ale, I would offer you a Spotted Cow, or a Leinenkugel's Summer Shanty.


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