The idea for this blog came to me when I read a review I’d received on YouWriteOn regarding an excerpt of my latest manuscript that I’d put up there for reading. Part of it went like this:
Very good dialogue which fleshes out the protagonist. The language is also vivid, but as a ‘Yank’ I did find some of the terms/slang unclear like Peter Tong and finger trouble. Also not sure what ‘I have the keys to the door’ means.
Authors hail from all corners of the globe, and each little corner is obviously very real to that particular writer. It’s where family and roots are, and it seems natural enough to want to use words and vernacular pertinent to that area. However, what I’m trying to find out here is whether readers think it’s a good thing to leave out any local dialect or slang, and just write standard words instead that everybody understands (I nearly wrote ‘bog-standard’ then but quickly changed it!)?
Yes I do sometimes put in London slang such as ‘Pete Tong and ‘finger trouble’, but do not tend to change the spellings of words to fit local dialect, as that is something which irritates me immensely. If it occurs in a book I am reading I always end up trying to work out the original words, and it distracts from the story so much that I usually give up reading it.
So you see, it’s a tricky one, is this. I suppose writers could add a little footnote and translate any local dialect, but if they have to do that for every page, is it worth writing the slang in the first place? Will it distract the reader if they have to constantly look down at the footer to see what on earth the author is going on about?
And then there’s the problem of British English and American English. I tend to prefer books written in British English because I am British. It would feel completely alien to me to write about sidewalks, diapers, hoods and trucks, because I’ve grown up with pavements, nappies, bonnets and lorries! However, I do know what these mean if I read them in a novel written by an American writer because the spellings have not been changed, although if somebody can tell me what a fanny-pack is I’d be ever grateful, as in England I’m sure this has an altogether different meaning!
For your information, ‘It’s all gone Pete Tong (not Peter Tong) is cockney rhyming slang for ‘It’s all gone wrong’. ‘Finger trouble’ (or ‘the biological interface’) is where a person blames a tool or a piece of machinery for going Pete Tong, but really it’s their own fault for not reading the instructions properly. Finally ‘having the keys to the door’ is another way of saying that person has reached maturity/ age of consent (years ago it used to apply to persons of 21 and over).
Sam’s jam jar has given up the ghost. I think it needs disconnecting up and a bobblefosdicator…….