“Divided by a common language”

Why don’t American characters in English novels speak American?

I’m re-reading David Lodge’s wonderful Changing Places, and have just noticed for the first time that his American characters don’t consistently speak American. So far I’ve encountered “WC” for “toilet,” “pram” for “baby-carriage,” “towelling” for “terrycloth,” “sport” for “sports,” and “marketing” for “shopping.”

Lodge isn’t alone, of course. One of Len Deighton’s American bureaucrats talks about the Navy “estimates” (meaning appropriations) and plans to call the “second secretary” of a Senator, where in context he’d want the legislative director.

Any of these errors could have been caught by having an American copy-edit the manuscript, though in the Deighton instance it would have had to be someone familiar with Washington jargon.

No doubt English characters in American novels make similar errors.

I know the publishing business is always in a financial squeeze, and I don’t expect novels to be fact-checked, but these are unforced errors. I wonder if the book reviewers ever bother to comment on them?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com