Don’t sack off and be a skiver when you’re editing! (Say what?!)
I think it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re reading a bunch of slang that doesn’t fit the context of the cultural dialect to which you are accustomed. Each country and region within the country has its own unique words and phrases that could be enough to confuse even the most cultured among us. But deciphering standard English (even if it is a different standard from the dialect you’re used to) doesn’t mean you have to get frustrated and crack it.
English isn’t always the English you think it is
Many countries have English as one of their primary languages, but it doesn’t mean they all speak the same language. There are as many variations to the grammatical standard for English as there are countries who chose English as a primary language, and there are various different spellings associated with different countries and even certain regions within those countries.
In working with authors from Canada, the U.K., and Australia I have found there to be so many widely varying words and grammar rules it is nearly impossible to keep up—nearly. And it isn’t about the slang either. Something as simple as the word check (cheque in Canada, the U.K. and Australia) can throw you for a loop when you read a book written by an author who lives “across the pond.”
Same word, new spelling…
Spellings like “forward” and “forwards” can become points of contention and debate, Americans preferring the singular version in all instances while (whilst in Queen’s English) Brits and the like prefer the plural for adverbs and the singular for adjectives. And don’t forget to watch for words like tyre (tire to American’s and certain Canadians). They can sneak up on you and you’ll never even know they’ve been misspelled, unless you’re reading an out-of-country author and you have the keen eye for detail.
What if the word is just wrong?
Even more confusing can be terms you could easily find in the dictionary that are defined as meaning something culturally but which the style guides all indicate are actually used wrong. I was in an interesting conversation with someone when we discovered “further” in Australian English means what Americans believe “farther” to mean. Easily confused for certain, but the style guide points us to a clear standard for print books which you would only know if you know the standard.
It’s not just words
There is also the matter of punctuation and how each country/region has their own standard. I’ve found some British English-speaking countries prefer the American style of punctuating, while others use the traditional Queen’s English style.
You probably won’t run into these issues much as a reader once you learn to understand the differences between the region dialects, but if you’re planning to help a friend with revisions or edits, make sure you check out the style manuals for specific guidance on how to handle these and other grammar issues. You wouldn’t want your peers to pull the piss out of you!
~MK Writing Services