Unexpected challenges of cross-cultural writing

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help writers. Today I discuss an amusing and educational post that appeared on the Bigstock Photo blog.

As a Canadian, I live in a country that sees itself lying somewhere in the midway point between England and the US. We spell the word colour with a U, and we report our temperature in Centigrade, but, perhaps because of all the American TV we watch, our vocabularies are more closely allied with Americans.

A recent post on the BigStockPhoto blog made this very clear. Titled 20 British Words That Mean Something Totally Different in the US, the post offered an entertaining romp through some of the most typical mismatches. I knew many of them already but I was taken aback by bird, which in the US (and Canada) means one of our feathered friends and in the UK refers to a woman.

Some of the more interesting ones are dummy — a mannequin in North America and a child’s soother in the UK, and shag — a type of carpet in North America and having sex in the UK. And braces, which you wear on your teeth in North America and on your chest in the UK.

Puzzlingly, they omitted boot (a piece of footwear in North America and the trunk of a car in the UK.) But the list of 20 accurately illustrates the challenge of cross-cultural writing — especially when those cultures seem as though they’re already almost identical.

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