Sunday, December 27, 2009




Can you, at a glance, tell whether each abstract (from Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans) is from a British or an American publisher?

The answer is that (a) is from an American publisher (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000) and (b), from a British publisher (Faber & Faber, 2000).

Quotation marks are usually the most obvious clue: Americans prefer double quotes, whereas the British prefer single quotes: compare interrogating and interrogating, for instance.

A second difference is the placement of the full-stop: compare “such an odd bird at school.” with ‘such an odd bird at school’.  American practice always has the punctuation inside the quotes, even if a fragment is being quoted (as here), whereas in British practice it depends on whether the punctuation was part of the original quote, a grammatically complete sentence, and so on.

A third clue to (a) being American is the full-stop in St. Dunstan’s: American editorial practice generally uses full-stops in abbreviations; by contrast, modern British practice has largely dispensed with them altogether.  In older British practice, however, full-stops were used in all abbreviations except contractions, i.e. the first and last letters of the full word were retained.  Hence, Dr for doctor but Prof. for Professor.  (However, to avoid confusion, St. was used for street and St for saint.)

Surprisingly, the word judgement in the US edition retains the British spelling, with the e as underlined — perhaps to keep the British identity of the protagonist.  In British English, judgement is used in non-legal contexts, and judgment in legal ones.  Hence, In my judgement, this judge is not qualified to pass judgment on this case (but judgment in both instances in American English).


Not Lemony Snicket said...

Dear TGT

I have read quite a few of your posts focusing mainly on grammar errors, but as far as I have read, the only thing I had seen were citations of errors from text taken from novels, etc. I have been taking a bit of fondness lately in poetry, but I'm having problems with how tenses flow from line to line. I can't honestly make heads or tails with this. I just want to ask if there are certain grammar etiquette, if you will, that follows poetry in contrast to prose.


The Grammar Terrorist said...

Hi there

I really can't be sure, but I'd imagine that the rules are the same for prose as the reader needs some point of reference. However, I'm sure there are some creative uses for inconsistent tense: to shift the time frame (e.g. flashback), or even to convey a narrator's stream of consciousness.

All the best for the New Year,