Student guest post: Some special relationship — we can’t even agree on words

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the second of those posts. Megan Cain is a UNC-Chapel Hill student who is studying broadcast journalism with a minor in entrepreneurship. She is also a contributing writer at College Town.

If we were going to see a movie in the United Kingdom, we would be attending the theatre. If we went to see that same movie in the United States, we would be attending the theater. Either way, you would be buying the snacks. Blimey!

No matter our location, communicating with one another would be as easy as pie, with the exception of the occasional colloquialism. Both Americans and the British have their own special sayings, but navigating these differences can be dodgy territory.

Why do these differences exist? Well, you could say Americans were on a bit of a freedom high. After separating themselves from their mother nation politically, some felt they should follow suit from a linguistic perspective.

When America took its first census in 1790, there were over four million Americans. Almost 90 percent of these Americans were descendants of British colonists. Words were created for new creatures and new surroundings, taking influence from the languages of fellow colonists.

“As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government,” Noah Webster wrote in his 1791 Dissertations on the English Language. Not everybody felt the same way. Throughout the 19th century, Webster was met with fierce competition from the more British-oriented Nathaniel Worcester. The BBC has analyzed which spellings caught on and those that didn’t.

I am writing this post because I’ve spent the past eight months with our fellow English speakers, traveling to both Australia and the U.K. I won the Carolina Blue Honors Fellowship, allowing me to work for a digital sports company called FanHub Media. Recognising my journalistic capabilities, FanHub immediately tasked me with writing and editing numerous documents.

The problem? I consistently questioned words I had been spelling correctly for the majority of my life. In an extra twist, FanHub has clients all over the world, so I had to consistently switch my brain back and forth from American to British English. I had to sharpen my editing utensils and dig further into content than I ever had, ensuring that I wasn’t over or under-correcting based on American phrasings and spellings. I never thought editing English would make me uncomfortable.

However, I believe my discomfort led to my greatest growth as an editor. I was forced to start from scratch. I questioned what I didn’t know and even what I did. I learned to pay even more attention, constantly asking myself about who my audience was, and I realised I should have been doing this all along.

How we edit depends almost solely on who the audience is and what will make the most sense to them. You wouldn’t edit a feature story on a baby panda appearing in National Geographic Kids in the same way you would edit a doctoral dissertation on the fertility and breeding cycle of a female panda. Audience should remain at the forefront of an editor’s mind.

I apologize for my nonsense, but I invite you to take a gander at British English once in a blue moon. Might make you feel like a below-average bloke, but it’s good practice.

Cheers, mates!