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William King

That's not English?

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I didn't think that as a topic this subject fitted in the writers workshop, because it's not a positive aspect of writing, or a tip, or recommendation. Rather it is a question that has plagued me ever since coming online to read stories and it is pretty much connected to American English.

There have been discussions about differences between American v British English and this question is not about which words are used, but about phraseology and missing words.

Take the following example: I don't believe I am able for it. 

I don't understand that phrase, which was written by an American author. I am not talking 'any old' amateur writer, but more a 'professional' top dog. My question is: is that phrase American English? It certainly is not British English as I know it.

This is one example, at random, from one writer, there are hundreds of others from various American authors. There is the phenomenon of missing words, sentences which read incomplete to my British ears, because a simple word like 'and' or even 'a' or 'the' is absent. There are expressions which are common in British English, but get written slightly 'askew' by American writers. 

I can't go through endless examples, I have discussed the subject with some authors, I have edited to highlight differences, but essentially the reply is: this is how I always write/talk.

It leaves me wondering, and asking myself this question: are these oddities that don't read smoothly to my British ears differences between American and British English, or are they errors?

Does anyone else read stories and find themselves stopping, rephrasing something in their head that doesn't read right, or putting in a word here or there because it's missing, even occasionally shaking your head and saying to yourself, "that's not English!"?

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There are cultural usage differences (go to hospital being one that grates to North American ears) but I believe the vast majority of the American usage is pure laziness, or at least a lack of educational insistence on writing correctly, and maybe a bit of defiance on the part of younger speakers and writers. 

 

"Want to go with?" Instead of "Do you want to go with me?" is a personally excruciating example. That, in my view, is pure laziness.

 

But I'm Canadian, so I politely ignore those things and just churn internally. 😢🤓🙄

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  In classrooms rules for writing and speaking English necessarily are fixed, for the convenience of teaching beginning speakers and writers useful conventions.  The undertakings of business and law depend upon strict adherence to these conventions in order for contracts and lawsuits to have meaning.  The same is true for much of human endeavor, no matter what language is used to express our need to communicate accurately and without misinterpretation. 

However, the same requirements do not apply when it comes to the world of creative expression. Here English is necessarily a fluid language, with usage constantly being reinvented and revised. One has only to read poetry, or listen to lyrics, to realize that the ability to invent new ways of expressing the language is part of what makes these media rich and rewarding.  We find this inventiveness in Chaucer, in Shakespeare, and on and on throughout the body of our received literature and song.  It is a wonderful evolution.


 

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William wrote:   I don't believe I am able for it.   
 

I don't understand that phrase, which was written by an American author. I am not talking 'any old' amateur writer, but more a 'professional' top dog. My question is: is that phrase American English? It certainly is not British English as I know it.

Are these oddities that don't read smoothly to my British ears differences between American and British English, or are they errors?

    I don't understand it either, and it's certainly not a common phrase.  I'd like to assume it was a misprint.  Or the author was trying to invent a new usage and came up with a very awkward one.

   As to other usages, where words are left out especially, there's a big difference between formal English, spoken and written English, and colloquial English.  I'm not sure about Englishmen, but Americans are very lazy when speaking and fracture the language to an often indecipherable degree.

   This gives us writers pause, because when we write dialogue, should we copy how characters will actually speak?  If so, how many readers will become confused?  In speaking, people make leaps and bounds with lack of continuity, with logic, with clear thinking.  

    It gives us problems when editing, too.  How much gobbledygook should we ignore?

    I'd guess the English fracture the language less than we Americans do.  They do have their peculiarities, however.  After an afternoon's drive, they always park up.  We simply park. 

      I don't think of this as an error.  I think of it as the English being English.

C

 

 

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3 hours ago, Cole Parker said:

 It gives us problems when editing, too.  How much gobbledygook should we ignore?

And just what do you mean by that, eh?  :inquisitive: ...  :brooding: ...  :cry:

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13 hours ago, William King said:

There have been discussions about differences between American v British English and this question is not about which words are used, but about phraseology and missing words.

 

Take the following example: I don't believe I am able for it.

William, context would be helpful. Could you post a bit more?

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There are a lot of good points made here in reply to my question. @Merkin I appreciate the evolution of the English language, but tend to think that what I am picking up on is more likely, as @Cole Parker made the point, Americans (and probably British as well) are lazy when speaking (and writing) which fractures the language. When this is in dialogue I have no objections, however in narration it's not so good.

@Camy here is a bit more (I don't want to write too much as I don't want it identified): In a couple of weeks, we have a game coming up, and I don't believe I am able for it. I have been crappy the last couple of sessions, ...

Perhaps this is simply a question of word choice and differences in the way of speaking, if I were to replace - able - with fit, it would read perfectly, I don't believe I am fit for it, or it's American English v British English, because in British English - up - would work as well, I don't believe I am up for it. However, this latter expression I would only use in dialogue, not narrative, because it is a colloquialism.

Maybe I'm too finicky and should simply follow the story... 😁

 

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Of course, selecting such a limited fragment of dialogue means we don't know the context. Looking at the source could reveal the reason for this particular wording. Is it written this way on purpose? Or is it a story that needs editing?

Colin  :icon_geek:

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In a couple of weeks, we have a game coming up, and I don't believe I am able for it. I have been crappy the last couple of sessions, ...

That simply looks wrong.  Decidedly wrong.  Like the person saying it isn't a native English speaker.  It should be: ready for it, or 'fit for it' as you said, 'up for it' works just as well, 'down with it' if you're a slang-speaking teen, but no one would say 'able for it'.  That's just a grating combination of words.

C

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‘able’ is clearly related to ‘capable’ and made famous by the palindrome ‘Able was I ere I saw Elba’ often erroneously attributed to Napoleon.
 

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I am assuming that it is not dialogue.  My friend Peter just sent me Sheffieldish: A Beginners Phrase Book.  I suspect that just about anything in quotation marks is fair game.  Could this be an error attributable to English as a second language?

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