As global online writing grows more prominent, as opposed to country-specific traditional print writing, I’m considering the important question of which language to write in. Before you all think I’m incredibly intelligent and multi-lingual, let me just stop you. I’m not. I can speak enough German to avoid being arrested and enough French to buy Mussels and white wine. For Italian, I just wave my arms around a lot.
I’m talking about what George Bernard Shaw called “Two countries separated by a common language.” British English and American English. In particular how it relates to automotive writing for North American readers and British readers. There’s a lot to think about.
There are the obvious things that spring to mind, such as Tyre or Tire, Colour or Color. But these are fairly simple, obvious terms that pale into insignificance when it comes to other aspects, some quite fundamental. America has very different words for many, indeed most, car parts, the roads they drive on and even the act of driving compared to the UK, so if you’re writing for a global audience, what do you do? Should you write in Queens English and accept that American readers will be mildly concerned as they try and figure out what the bonnet is? And why are you putting your luggage into a boot, why not just open the trunk lid?
Or should you consider the fact that globally, American English is becoming the default setting and that automotive writers should be writing about the hood, not the engine, front fenders, not front wings and driving on pavement, not asphalt? This dilemma becomes even more important when you begin to consider Google and Search Engine Optimisation for your online content.
Here’s some more examples of automotive terms that struggle to make their way across the Atlantic and back again
We British call it understeer. At Laguna Seca, it’s called Push. Same goes for oversteer – loose to the USA driver.
They drive on the Pavement in the USA. You’d get arrested in the UK for that. We call it tarmac, asphalt. Pavement is the sidewalk, guys.
First Steer – a term used to describe those initial short drives. My First Steer was sitting on the lap of my grandfather when I was six years old. We call them First Drives in the UK
Stick Shift – That’s a manual gearbox to the Brits.
Shocks – Shock absorbers. Or dampers preferably.
Coilovers – perhaps not an American phrase, but it bugs me, so it’s on the list. I was always told that it was a McPherson Strut
In short, if you’re writing for a trans-Atlantic, English speaking audience, in my view you have to begin considering American English. It seems that the British are more willing to accept losing the U from color and dotting the I for tyre than the Americans are for trying to figure out how to open the bonnet and the boot.
Right now, I’m authoring a short series of automotive eBooks, so if you have a view on the subject, I’d like to hear it.
However, there’s one term I’m really sad to have to admit that the British have to take responsibility for. Thank you Mr Clarkson for the term Flappy Paddle. May you take it to your grave.