Sunday, November 07, 2004

Apparently, I'm a Stealth Brit.

It seems that I am a stealth Brit.

Oh, I know what those of you who know me will say: "Hmmm. Picture of the Queen in his study; prenatural fondness for pub food; CD rack full of Vaughn Williams, Britten, Elgar and the like; a cookbook shelf that makes room for Nigel Slater, Gary Rhodes, Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith and little else; an urge to stand when 'Rule Brittania' is played -- that's bloody obvious! Where's the stealth in that?"

But it goes deeper than I knew.

In reading Lynne Truss' fine book on punctuation (mentioned earlier in Gower Street), and in reading a book on writing admissions essays for graduate school I now realize that I have been following more or less naturally the rules of British English (and violating heinously the rules of American English) when I write.

Of course, I don't mean things such as writing "favourite" for "favorite", or "lorry" for "truck", or "cricket" for "hopelessly confusing and long game that defies description".

What I mean is what I just did in that last paragraph. It has never made sense to me that when you are using quotation marks (or in England, "inverted commas") you are to include the punctuation within the marks, even if it wasn't part of the quote. For example, in that last paragraph, I was suggesting several possible examples of what I don't write. The final example seems that it should be parallel to the others: I didn't refrain from writing "favourite."; I still write "favorite" (not "favorite,"). Yet, as I understand it, American English grammar says that the punctuation should fall within the quotation marks. I'd like to meet the divvy who invented that. The British do just the opposite: unless the punctuation is from a direct quote, (e.g. "He shouted, 'you berk!'") it stays safely out of the way at the end of the sentence the way God intended.

I also tend to use "which" in sentences when American English wants "that", and vice-versa. So, for example, "Using British conventions in writing, when one is American, is a bad habit which will end up getting one in unnecessary trouble." American English would prefer to use "that" for "which" in the last sentence. A Brit would offer to buy me a pint of Fuller's ESB for getting it right. (Also, I don't understand why we in America drop off the "e" in judgment...)

The tough thing is that these aren't affectations, but simply the way that I write and the way that makes the most sense to me, hence a "stealth Brit". Unfortunately, I am in the process of writing admissions essays to rather a lot of American universities right now, and they expect that a bloke from the U.S. will write in Standard American English, a reasonable enough expectation.

Oh well, I suppose I ought to stop whingeing and just get on with it.

God save the Queen anyhow.

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