Here’s a recent letter to The Times from Nancy Gay of Biggin Hill, Kent:
Sir, Like Kate Phaneuf (letter, July 25), I have raged at the Americanisation of English novels. As a young American bookworm I delighted in the British otherness of Sherlock Holmes and Peter Wimsey and countless others. I hate it that my nieces and nephews in America are being denied the same pleasure.
I regret to tell Aline Templeton (letter, July 31) that the Scots fare no better. This summer I found Ian Rankin’s Fleshmarket Alley. I could not bear to read morethan a couple of pages. I announced to my daughters: “Don’t buy any British books from American bookshops. I’ll send you the real thing.” A sister, overhearing, was distressed. “What have I been missing?” she wailed.
What she has missed, and what all victims of this cultural vandalism miss, is the delight of discovery, the joy of allowing language to work its magic on intelligence, the delicious savour of new flavours and textures. Americans are not too stupid to enjoy national differences in English usage, but I fear they will become stupid if never given the chance to be otherwise.
My husband is currently reading another of Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels, Let It Bleed, and as I have a curious turn of mind, I decided to do a bit of sleuthing. I brought up an excerpt from the US edition of Let It Bleed on amazon.com. In the first 5 pages or so I discovered the following:
In “Co-op funeral parlour”, “Co-op” was dropped, “wing mirror” was changed to “rearview mirror”, “roundabout” to “traffic circle”, “L-plates” (referring to learner drivers rather than the plates themselves) to “rookies”, “transit van” to “moving van” and, silliest of all because Scots, unlike the English, really do pronounce the “r”, “arse” becomes “ass”.
Oh, and Rebus fans will notice that even the title of Fleshmarket Close has been changed for US consumption to Fleshmarket Alley, even though Fleshmarket Close is a real street in Edinburgh.
Do American readers really need this sort of linguistic mollycoddling or it it just that US publishers think they do?
I haven’t noticed the same kind of thing being done to British editions of American-set novels by US authors. It would jar terribly and ruin both flavour and authenticity. Usually we get the original US editions intact or occasionally with just the spelling and punctuation changed to British forms.