Call them aubergines not eggplants – but don’t quote me on that
American English and British English. Here’s the big one to watch… and what actually matters.
Would you write aubergine in your American English recipe, or eggplant in your British English one? For those of you thinking “yeah, why not.” Sure, you don’t have to stick to convention. But if you’d like to, here’s one to watch.
A common typo
As a proofreader, I find that written quotes are, it would seem, inconsistency numero uno – often found offending readers of a press release. So, here’s a little test, which one of the below is American English, and which is British English?
‘I love aubergines, I guess it’s something about the colour,’ Jemima said.
“The smell of eggplants makes me sick, they remind me of school dinners”, Jacob said.
I consulted The Economist Style Guide to make double sure (because, you know, they write English well good). And what I found, surprised me. According to the publisher, whilst British English opts for ‘sense,’ placing commas and full stops outside the final quotation mark, in US writing, which is ‘simpler but less logical’ commas and full stops (periods, or ‘full points’ if you’re The Guardian) precede the final quotation mark.
Ok, then – this would render the first quote above American English, and the second, British.
I consulted my mother. “The piece is good, darling,” she said. “But I’m afraid that’s the wrong way round.” Hmm. I thought this was going to be an easy blog – how wrong I was, and how unsurprising, then, that people mix it up all over the shop.
“The piece is good, darling, but I’m afraid that’s the wrong way round.”
According to Mum, in many books, it’s quite the opposite. So, I took to the book shelves to scour as many authors from our shores and across the pond as I could lay my hands on: Blyton, Steinbeck, Maslow, Chandler, Du Maurier, Atwood, Wodehouse… Nope, not a supposed British quotation in sight, all of them ‘simply’ using punctuation before the closing inverted comma (or, sensibly, ‘quotation mark’ if you’re The Guardian).
Frustrated and confused, I did the only sensible thing and grabbed the latest copy of The Economist. With only a couple of page-flicks, I’d found enough commas and full points to confirm that they did, indeed, believe their British way to be correct. But hang on a tick, not so fast. After a few more page flicks, I found other quotes written in their American way.
That is the sound of my mind melting. I consulted the wider internet. A great many agree with The Economist, that in British English, full points/stops/heck – dots, and commas should live outside the final quotation mark. However, “I love eggplants, I guess it’s something about the colour,” does look neater, and for that reason – yes Deborah Meaden, I’m in. (And that’s probably the reason why the vast majority of others are too.)
Pick one and stick to it
So, what should you stick to? US English or British English?
Hey, your website’s not going to crash if you’ve got your little black spots nestling in the American position, but – unless it’s denim on denim – it’s nice when it matches. Consistency complements a good read. As my friend and rad marketing agency owner Aime Cox-Tenant says: “Hey Janine, just pick a thing, and stick to it.”
More important than precisely where you pop your full stops, though, is what you’re writing about and how you’re writing about it. A good piece of writing with poor placement of those little flea-like fellas at the end of a sentence is better than a terrible article that’s grammatically sound. But what of the third choice to strive for: good writing and consistency? When those two get it on – the magic happens. The unicorn gallops across your keyboard and leaves a trail of magic rainbows.
So, whether you’re the Economist-loving Brit or the keep-it-simple American (and let’s face it, almost everyone else), once you’ve placed the final black dot on your eloquent, informative and authentic article*, give it a ruthless edit (or hire me to do it for you) for typos and consistency.
Pick a quotation style that you enjoy the most and stick to it, then grab your pinking shears and cut out the garble. Simple sentences taste so good. Like moussaka.
*Such lofty-high standards are good to aim for, but a good article that’s published is better than the I-want-it-perfect one that’s not.