One of the very first jobs I ever did in publishing was intern for the craft and lifestyles division of Creative Publishing international (yes, small “i”), and one of the more memorable jobs that summer was helping to “Americanize” a British entertaining book for the American market. I was 21 or so, and this was probably the first thought I’d ever given to the concept of Americanization. It was fun—at least more fun than sorting and scanning film, which is much of what I did the rest of the summer (I also learned a fair bit about quilting and baking).
So what, you might ask. Well, the issue of Americanizing books has returned to my job and to my reading habits in a prominent way recently. And it’s not a simple issue. That same summer I was an intern, I also read the first Harry Potter book, which I remember as the one most conspicuously Americanized (the title, of course, but also the text, if I recall correctly—didn’t they have “fries”?). Eight years and six more Harry Potter books later, it seems to me like readers have different needs and expectations when it comes to Americanization. I have no solid evidence of this, but I think Harry and others have probably made a generation of American readers more comfortable with foreign usage than they might have been and more sensitive to the sense of place that comes with unfamiliar language or usage. This is a good thing, and not just because I don’t have to change “chips” to “fries.” Part of the beauty of books is being transported by language. The words matter and the fewer of them we have to change, the better.
Do you notice Americanization in British books? Does it bother you when you do? Are there instance where you’d welcome it?
(Do I think there’s a place for Americanization? Yes, where meaning would be come insurmountably inscrutable. For example, the British and their weird insistence on using “public school” in exactly the opposite way we do is problematic.)