Have no fear, this isn’t a tale of gruesome deaths in Scandinavia.
A friend in Toronto, a former colleague in my first editing job 20 years ago, asked me in an email if I knew that in Britain, rutabagas are referred to as ‘Swedes’. I did indeed know that, having lived in London for many years, and wrote back that not just rutabagas but also turnips are known as Swedes.
Why? I have no idea. No more than I can understand why anyone in their right mind would have crossed turnips and cabbages to create rutabagas in the first place, thereby giving life to yet another unappealing vegetable.
My own mother used to force me to eat mashed turnips as a child, and I assure you that 20 years later I found them no more palatable when presented for Sunday lunch in England by my ex’s mother under the guise of ‘mashed Swedes’.
You’ve probably heard the line that Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language”. (Attributed to multiple famous men including Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.) I would make that North America, not just America, because of course Canada shares many ‘language-isms’ with the US.
This makes it tricky for writers with a background in different countries. I know that I have picked up a vocabulary of random words and phrases over the years, and I carelessly assume everyone knows what they mean.
In my novel, the hero says to the heroine, “You’ve not got the lurgy, as well?”
And of course my invaluable editor friend in Toronto emailed me to ask what the heck a lurgy is!
That made me realise just how many of these language pitfalls I had sprinkled merrily throughout the pages, with no regard to the end reader. Trawling through tens of thousands of words looking for them was no thrill, but I hope it makes the final book clearer for a North American reader while still retaining the flavour of words commonly used in England and Scotland.
Kerb or curb? I agonised over that one. Now it’s a gutter.
If you too are wondering just what the heck a lurgy is, it’s a bad cold. Sometimes, as my hero explains, when it’s very bad it’s known as the dreaded lurgy.
And Mum – I forgive you for the turnips.