I’ve been enjoying a lively conversation about how some words have more than one meaning depending upon where you come from. Since words are the writer’s tools, they have to be as clear as possible. But what happens when you make an innocent mistake? Well, we have to go in and make edits to your work. Don’t be insulted that we think you provincial and that we’re trying to destroy your voice. We need to consider that the audience won’t be restricted to just your locale, and we have to make the wording clear so we don’t have any confusion. Confusion makes readers scratch their heads and takes them out of the story.
If, for example, an author wrote about how his character had a “proper job” most of us would understand exactly what the writer meant – a “real” job rather than, oh, say, a writer. However, if someone in Cornwall, England read that they’d think the character had enjoyed a jolly good shag. If the publisher has foreign rights, edits would be in order, wouldn’t you say?
This reminds me of the movie Free Willy, and how all the South Africans, Brits, and probably the Aussies as well, laughed themselves into a coma because “willy” means a man’s…ah…um…err…I think you get the idea. Had I been the publisher of a book bearing the same title, I would have considered Free Shamu, or Free Bubbles, but leave poor Willy out of it – especially if I have sold the foreign rights.
As editors, we need to be sensitive to how another country, or even another state might read something in narratives. Aloha is one of those words, meaning hello, goodbye, have a nice day in Hawaii. Everyone gets that. But I get the idea it also has its darker origins as well, and it could be used to infer all sorts of things. I think the Hawaiian working at Hilo Hattie’s on the Big Island meant it to mean “go blow yourself” when a tourist was a complete ass over buying a $25 pair of earrings for his wife, who stood by turning all shades of red. It was all I could do to keep from laughing up a lung. All I could think is that it would make for a great narrative in a book – provided the reader fully understood the word Aloha.
This idea of words that have more than one meaning got me to thinking that I should start making up my own meanings just for kicks and giggles. For instance, I could start saying “surf’s up!” which would mean “I’m rejecting this manuscript.” I would claim all innocence by stating this is how we say “rejection” in Southern California. If an author asks why I rejected them, I could simply say, “Duuude, get a new surfboard, man.”
Hmm…thinking of the infinite possibilities of no one having a clue what I’m talking about.