I am an author from the UK. As such, I regularly get comments/complaints from US readers who find my use of ‘British English’ confusing. I don’t blame them. If there wasn’t so much US TV on Netflix, I’d probably be vague on the meaning of American words like bangs and sidewalks too.
To ease the suffering of their international readers, some authors have have produced a Guide to Britishism’s to help explain the wonders of chip butty’s, fags and car parks. (Though I’m not sure the last one really needs an explanation, does it?)
Anyway, one of my books is set in Wales and I recently got a comment about my use of ‘Welshism’s.’ And no, I’m not talking about a book written in the Welsh language. Let me explain.
Like any area, Wales has it’s own set of ‘local’ words. There are words taken directly from Cymraeg, such as “Cwtch” (pronounced Cutch) which means ‘hug’
or “Ach-y-fi” which is a mild expletive – basically an expression of disgust. (This is actually really expressive. You should try it.)
Then there are words like “tidy” – no, not saying you have a neat house, but that you think something is good.
And “lush”, which is not a description of rainforest vegetation but something you like very much.
I would consider these words were waaaaay to obscure to use in a novel.
A question of names
But then there are the quirky nicknames by which the Welsh might traditionally identify each other. This is where I came unstuck.
Possibly started as a way of distinguishing between the many Jones’, Williams’ and Evans’ living in an area, many people had nicknames. You might have Jones the milk
Jones the bones
and Jones the sheep
Get it? Of course you do.
So, when I wrote, ‘Jones the Sheep’ arrived, I did not mean a ‘real’ sheep that someone had randomly named Jones walked into the scene. I meant, here comes the man everyone calls ‘Jones the Sheep’.
My reader thought this was unclear.
In the end I took out the reference to sheep and simply named by character ‘Mr Jones’. Boring, yes, but easy for anyone to understand.
What do you think?
Would a nickname like this cause confusion? Does writing localism’s enhance the story or just make it unreadable?
I’d love to know your thoughts.
Let me know in the comments below.
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