sometimes it can be the simpliest of things

A number of others far cleverer than I have posted on the subject of writing books for or based on a specific ethnic or cultural community as well as the differences in language and idioms.

What struck me the other day was that it can be the teeny tiniest of these things, which can make me as a reader – and as much as I’m used to reading stories with settings other than Australia – stop in my tracks and scratch my head.

For me, it was recently a US book that used the phrase ‘a check mark’.

After I’d got over my “what the hell…??” and realised the author was referring to making a tick mark, it made me wonder how many other readers have hesitated at such relatively simple things.

Have any of you had similar experiences? Or is it the bigger differences such as a sport or even a food, which have confused the heck out of you?

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30 Responses to sometimes it can be the simpliest of things

  1. Ozakie says:

    Hmm, that is a good question. The last book that I recently read(Call Me By Your Name) had some phrases in Italian, but honestly I was so caught up in the romance and story of the book that it didnt bother me. I would imagine it would be a little annoying to read something outside of your local customs and language bc it sort of takes the reader out of the story for a bit when you are engrossed in it. I think in cases like that authors should be sparingly in such usages..

  2. Ingrid says:

    I would imagine it would be a little annoying to read something outside of your local customs and language
    Ozakie that would be 99% of the books I am reading at the moment so things like Kris mentions I don't notice any more or it must be really outlandish.

    As for foreign languages, I know quite a few including italian πŸ™‚

  3. Ingrid says:

    BTW what does bug me are errors in dutch translations.
    But that is something most english speakers won't have a problem with *g*

  4. Lori says:

    It actually doesn't bother me so much. What bothers me is when you see it in reverse – for instance the author is British (or Australian) and writing a story set in the US with American characters and you'd see tick mark instead of check mark (to use your example). I've come across it in a couple books – it's an editing error, not an author's error, IMO. I noticed it most recently when I read GA Hauser's Acting Naughty – the guys were always on their mobiles. Here in the states, we call them cell phones. It bugged me in what was otherwise a fabulous story.

  5. Ingrid says:

    Lori, that is weird becase ga hauser is an american writer.

  6. orannia says:

    I get stuck on prouncing names – when I'm stressed I get rather anal retentive about prouncing names correctly, and if I don't I have to re-read the sentence. OOPS! OT!

    Actually, you writing check mark Kris had me scratching my head. I was thinking 'check' as in cheque book or check as in the pattern. And then I saw 'tick' and light dawned πŸ™‚

    But yes, deciphering can throw me out of the story.

  7. Kris says:

    Ozakie: I've just finished “Call Me by Your Name”. I had tears in my eyes reading the end and now just want to curl up and have a good cry. *sniffles*

    I think like all things when an author uses languges other than English in an otherwise English piece of work than they need to feel as if the work to the reader as opposed to feeling as though the author has sprinkled random foreign words throughout the dialogue, etc. I think it worked in “Call Me By Your Name” because there was almost a rhythm to the prose. It was very poetic.

    Ingrid: It's kind of hard to fuck up Australian English so I can't say that I've had the same problem as yours. πŸ˜‰

    Lori: It definitely happens both ways and it's always the little things that niggle like cells/mobiles, knickers/panties/undies, pavement/sidewalk/footpath, gas/petrol stations, etc, etc. As you say, it can really make an impression on what might be an otherwise terrific story.

    Orannia: It's funny you mentioned pronouncing names. I was watching telly the other day and somone spoke about the L. A. X. airport. Whenever I've read that in a book I've seen it reproduced as LAX and I thought it must have been spoken as lax (as in short for laxative). Boy, did I feel like a dick. LOL.

  8. Jenre says:

    I've learned not to sweat the big stuff like the US school system which completely baffles me or the rules of obscure little sports like American Football or Aussie Rules Football ;).

    I do occasionally get pulled up by small stuff though. For example in the US a bandage is the UK equivalent of a plaster (ie. as small elastoplast dressing) but in the UK a bandage is a long strip of gauze used to dress large wounds. That has thrown me on a number of occasions when I have thought 'but that's only a little cut, why do they need a huge bandage?'.

    And even though I have now cottoned onto the difference, it still gets me every time.

  9. Kris says:

    Cheeky! πŸ˜‰

    Good one. In Australia, we call them bandaids. A bandage is something you wrap around a sprain for eg and a plaster is something you put on (around?) a broken bone. (My response is usually 'why are they putting them in plaster, they only have a little cut??' LOL.) Funny, isn't it, how different the little things can be named.

  10. Ingrid says:

    A bandaid in dutch is a “pleister”, so that is much closer to plaster.

    In general british english “feels” better then american because we learn that in school.

  11. Anonymous says:


    Something like that happened only today in the classroom. I was showing my kids the power point that I had made on my holiday and I was talking about a delightful little 'hamlet' in Germany called Durnstein. WELL, they just pissed themselves laughing and were asking if that was another way of saying omelette????

    I couldn't get them to stop laughing and then one of the Associate Principals walked in and wanted them to share the joke: but although he knew what I was talking about, he thought that it was hugely funny too!!!

    At least he stayed to enjoy my VERY FIRST powerpoint presentation (pats on the back for this little Mumma).

  12. Well, there WAS that one time where I pondered the ingredients of Vegemite, which we just don't has in Hawaii (or anywhere else in the US where residents eat actual food:P).

    Because that's just how my phenomenal brain works, I had to ask if there was any correlation between Vegemite and Catamite. Supposedly there's not. Hired a bodyguard to keep kitteh safe anyways, lulz.

  13. Jenre says:

    Plaster-casts are put around broken bones in the UK.

    Lol, I can see how this whole thing is confusing. I once went into a US pharmacy (which would be a chemists in the UK) and asked for a box of plasters and they looked at me as if I was nuts. Much explanation and sign language ensued before they understood what I needed.

  14. Kris says:

    Ingrid: So Aussies could be more Dutch than English?? What were you saying a couple of weeks ago about discovering us first? Hehehe.

    Mumma: I'm so proud of your powerpoint omelettes. *beams*

  15. Kris says:

    No, kitteh. NO!! *teehee* I've been waiting to say that. *GRIN*

    Yanno, Emmy just cos vegemite and the stuff that catamites may do is associated with brown and stuffs, doesn't mean they're the same. Just sayin'. πŸ˜‰

    Jen: They're chemists AND pharmacies in Aussie-land. Work that one out. LOL.

  16. Ingrid says:

    ha Kris,
    I think pharmacies and chemists is the same as our “drogisterij” and “apotheek”. They both sell medicins only one is without prescriptions and the other is with.

  17. Tam says:

    Ahhh, being Canadian I don't have so many problems because we are rather schizophrenic. If you said “put a tick mark” or “put a check mark” everyone would know what you meant with either. We put bandaids OR bandages (but not plasters) depending on what we feel like saying. Bandaid is a brand, like Kleenex (rather than tissue) so people may say it or may not. When you break a bone you get a cast period, its ASSUMED its made out of plaster (unless you get a new fiberglass kind) I can write a cheque or a check for my rent, people will now what I mean if I use either. We do generally use cell phone rather than mobile phone but people again know what you are talking about, I will consider you European if you use mobile though. πŸ™‚

    I can't think of anything off hand that confused me. I maybe just gloss over it if its not integral to the story. Not sure. Or I have a short memory, which may well be the case. Oh I thought of one that always takes me a minute in British settings is wearing a jumper, because in Canada, a jumper is a pinafore that little girls wear. So when a guy puts on a jumper I have to concentrate for a minute, even though I KNOW that's what its called, it still gives me a brief crossdressing image. LOL Same with vest, a vest here is a waistcoat and a British vest is a tank top or a wifebeater (I'm not fond of that name).

  18. Jenre says:

    Tam: Vests are more associated with underwear. Old or uncool men wear then under their button up shirts. A real man wouldn't be caught dead wearing a vest, even in the depths of winter! We tend to call the 'wifebeaters' (yet another term I had to look up when I came across it) sleeveless t-shirts or vest-tops to distinguish them from underwear.

    Yes we have jumpers and pullovers which are the same thing. We also have jumper-suits which are like romper-suits for babies.

  19. Tam says:

    Okay, totally kind of off topic, how the hell did a jumper (either as a British pullover or a pinafore) get that name? It has nothing to do with jumping. Or maybe parachute jumpers wore them? Hmmm. Curious minds (that have nothing better to focus on) want to know.

  20. Ingrid says:

    Tam, you will have to try the etymologic dictionary.
    DonΒ΄t the horseriders wear them too?

  21. Tam says:

    Ha, all of our logic of parachute jumpers and horse jumpers for naught. It would seem from this definition, no one knows and is making it up as they go along.

    Jumper – 1853, apparently from 17c. jump “short coat,” also “woman's under bodice,” of uncertain origin, perhaps from Fr. jupe “skirt,” which is ult. from Ar. jubbah “loose outer garment.” Meaning “sleeveless dress worn over a blouse” first recorded Amer.Eng. 1939.

  22. Tracy says:

    I can't think of anything off hand that I have issues with. I'm with Orannia in that the pronouncing of names sometimes throws me out of the story.

    I had no idea that vests in the UK were tanks/undershirts. Learn something new every day.

  23. Hi, Kris, what a great topic. I'm with Tam – I get a little confused when I read about a British guy wearing a jumper because I think of that little pinafore thing, too.

    I also get a little impatient when I'm reading about a certain culture (usually it's either British or American) and the author gets the slang wrong (e.g., making a British character talk on his “cell phone” or an American talk on his “mobile.”)

    When I'm reading about another culture and I know the slang is accurate (i.e., the author is writing about her own culture and it's different from mine), then I really enjoy it even if I don't completely understand the expressions.

    I do remember having a good laugh in college with a Canadian student over our mutual confusion over the expression, “I'm really pissed!”

    To her, it meant, “I'm drunk,” and to an American like me it meant, “I'm annoyed.” These kind of exchanges are always really fascinating, ha, ha!

  24. Tam says:

    Ahh, pissed OFF is annoyed, pissed is drunk. LOL Although you can shorten pissed off and say “I'm pissed that I failed my exam”. But if someone said “Joe was pissed” unless it was in context I might think he was drunk. LOL

  25. Ozakie says:


    OMG, dont you love Call Me By Your Name. I cried at the bus-stop, walking on the way home, and then I cried for about 30 minutes. That book is like one of my alltime favorites. I have to emotionally prepare myself to read it again. I dont think I will ever stop thinking about Elio and Oliver. Everytime I think about those two, my eyes well up.

  26. Kris says:

    Ingrid: We get our scripts at both places here.

    Tam & Jen: Jumpers and pullovers are the same thing in Oz. Hmmm, but I think sometimes one might refer to a more of a casual thing as opposed to something more dressy. I'l ask the Mumma about that one.

    Vests are waistcoats, vesty jumper/pullover things and what someone might wear under their shirt/top. The latter is also called a singlet here, which is another name for a tank top or wifebeater (I hate that name too!).

    The origin of the word jumper was interesting. Thanks Tam.

  27. Kris says:

    Tracy: Yeah. Another word that threw me when I actually heard it spoken was 'adirondack'. Oh, and Chesapeake. I kept on calling it Cheeseypeek, which made the Mumma laugh no end. She can be mean. 😦

    Val, hi! As Tam said, you just need to add an 'off' to the end and then Bob's your uncle! LOL.

    Cultural slang can be really important can't it. It's something that can be just as interesting within a country; for eg, there are different terms for bathers/togs/swimsuits and ports/suitcases between the east and west coasts here. I think I get even more annoyed when these are stuffed up inhouse as it were. πŸ™‚

    Tam: I thought of another couple – flip flops/thongs and sneakers/runners.

  28. Kris says:

    Ozakie! *lower lip trembling* That scene right at the end where Oliver tells Elio what he wrote on the postcard broke my heart. All I could think of was why. God, I'm gonna start crying again…

  29. Tam says:

    No way in hell am I reading that book. Let me send you some kleenex/tissues. LOL

    Yes, I grew up calling them thongs, but now I use flip flops because it gets people thinking undies. And we refer to them as runners or running shoes at home but on-line I call them sneakers so that Americans won't get confused. See? Schizophrenic Canadians. We use both depending on our audience. I grew up calling rubber boots/Wellingtons just rubbers. Which would throw most people off these days. Rain boots I suppose works.

  30. Kris says:

    Tissues plz. πŸ˜‰

    “Schizophrenic Canadians.” Are you sure it's not just you, Tam?? *snicker*

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