Monday, February 17, 2020

A Harry Potter Compare and Contrast - American English and UK English

Last year I went off the Harry Potter deep-end.  I basically read or listened to the series non-stop all year long.  Like, six times or something.  I'd finish one book and immediately start the next.  I'd hit the end of the series and gleefully start it over again at the beginning.  I find it to be such a lovely, imaginative world populated with complex and heartfelt characters overlaid with the compelling eternal drama of good versus evil.  I love it.  Obviously.

Just the books though.  The movies are...alright...pretty good even, but it is the books that I can't get enough of.
I actually read them too many times last year though, I think, hence my nearly singular reading goal this year:  Give Harry Potter some space.  I would find myself comparing near every situation with "Oh, that's like in Harry Potter when..."  Plus, there are minute flaws and inconsistencies that I only gleaned after excessive familiarity from overreading.  Like, how Fred and George never saw the supposedly dead Peter Pettigrew on the Marauders Map in all the years they had it and Peter was Percy's pet.  Or why Harry's dad comes out first when Harry and Voldemort's wands are linked with the Priori Incantatem spell when James clearly died before that's backwards.  Or whether or not one needs a wand to transform into their animagi familiar because most people don't, but Peter did.  And so on.  Nothing major, just little inconsistencies in how the magic works mostly.  [Matt says:  How do you know how magic works, Beth?  And I suppose he has a point.  If magic is a skill they're strengthening and honing at school perhaps, at least in the latter example provided, that is an explanation.  It can't explain away the reversed parents thing though, so...]
Realizing that I was being obscene by reading the same seven books over and over I thought I could make it into a sort of project to justify it.  One of my "book reports" as Matt calls them--comparing any differences between the UK editions of the book and the American editions.  I borrowed three of the books in their UK editions from my friend Dee Ann who bought them on a trip to England.  I also borrowed one UK audiobook, read by Stephen Fry instead of Jim Dale, through interlibrary loan.  The latter was an interesting comparison in and of itself.

I love Harry Potter and am a bit of an Anglophile.  It was a match made in heaven.  Plus, it gave me the opportunity to produce this book report.  [Hahaha!]
Since I love language, I was particularly keen to contrast the British English and the American English.  I was curious to see how the publishers/editors might tweak things to make it more comprehensible to an American reader while retaining some authentic British flavor.  This was prompted by the use of the word "pudding" in both UK and American editions.  I've come to understand that "pudding" in England can mean basically any ol' desert.  In America, "pudding" is just one particular kind of dessert.  We would never call a chocolate cake pudding, but that is exactly what happens in Harry Potter.  I thought it was weird that the editors would leave in something like that when they clearly changed other easily confused words, like "jumpers" (which means sweaters in England and an overall style dress in America), to a more American form.  I thought I'd find out more.  [Matt says:  Couldn't you just google that?  I mean, there has to be some other Harry Potter dork out there who has already done this.  My reply:  What would be the fun in THAT?!??!]
I took notes as I read three of the UK editions--The Philosopher's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets, and The Prisoner of Azkaban.  I petered out for The Goblet of Fire, though it was no less enjoyable for the lack of notes.   It was tricky to take notes while sitting in the bathtub listening to the American version (at double speed!) while reading along with print UK book carefully in hand, but that didn't stop me.  True story.

The format below is :       British Version - American Version. [Plus some thoughts or additional notes about it.]
  • Getting up at cockcrow - Getting up at dawn
  • Defence - Defense
    [As with the word "grey," I occasionally slip into the British spelling of this word.  I can remember getting dinged on a paper in grade school because I'd "misspelled" the word grey.  I'm not sure how long I've been intermittently using defence.]
  • Colour - Color
  • Favored - Favoured 
  • Fulfil - Fulfill
  • Class timetable - Class schedule
  • Have a go on the Firebolt - Have a ride on the Firebolt
    [This one is inconsistently edited out of the books.  Sometimes they stick with "have a go" in both versions.  Sometimes they Americanize the phrase like this.]
  • ...feeling happier than he had done in ages - ...feeling happier than he had in ages
    [There were a bunch of examples like this--"had done" in England, just plain old "had" in American.  This is something I've noted in other British books.  I find it an interesting linguistic bit of formality.]
  • Get out of it! - Get out of here!
  • Put paid to - Got the better of
  • Draught - Draft
    [Confession:  I know I've seen the word "draught" before--I've been to a brewery in Missoula called Draught Works for heaven's sakes--but I guess I didn't realize how it was pronounced, that is to say, the same way we say "draft."  It was a word I'd read, but never heard aloud, I guess.  Or if I did, I failed to make the connection.  I also didn't realize it wasn't a beverage term and could be used for a room with a draft, too.]
  • Pyjamas - Pajamas
  • Sacked - Fired
  • Post - Mail
  • Jumper - Sweater
    [This one is inconsistently edited in the books.  Most of the time it jumper was Americanized to sweater, but not 100%.]
  • Weedy - Feeble
    [I'd never heard weedy used in this sense, but I love it.]
  • Waistcoat - Vest
  • Notice board - Bulletin board
  • Dressing room - Locker room
  • Won't take any rubbish - Won't take any crap
    [I have to feel the British have outclassed us here.]
  • Forwards - Forward
  • Downwards - Downward
  • Towards - Toward
  • Backwards - Backward 
    [I don't say forwards, but I DO say backwards.  Not always though.  I asked several other folks and I'm not alone.  So that was interesting.  I read some articles that indicated that, especially in Britain, the inclusion/exclusion of the S depends on what part of speech the word is being used as.  As an adverb, say, or as an adjective, etc. So now I am going to have to pay attention as it comes up in my reading or conversation.]
  • Scarpered - Scampered
  • Why did he scarper - Why did he run
    [Scarper is a great word.  It almost strikes me as an onomatopoeia.]
  • Quidditch pitch - Quidditch field
  • Good on you - Good for you
  • Lift - Elevator
  • Lunch trolly - Lunch cart
    [The luggage trolly is still called a trolly in both versions of the book.  Only the lunch trolly is Americanized to cart.]
  • She hasn't revised - She hasn't studied
  • Revising hard - Studying hard
    [I like the idea of revising one's knowledge rather than just studying.  The latter seems more rote, the former more ongoing and exploratory.]
  • Torch - Flashlight
  • Newsreader - Reporter
  • A fair few - Quite a few
    [I assume people like me are the reason this was changed for the American edition.  I'd read "a fair few" and think not-very-many.  This is, of course, the exact opposite of the intended meaning.]
  • Bollards - Waste baskets
  • Phone boxes - Phone booths
  • Chips - Fries
  • Its brilliant - Its great
    [I purposefully adopted a more British use of the word brilliant within the past couple years.  Not excessively or anything, but I think it is a superb synonym for great.  A brilliant idea.  A brilliant evening with friends. Doing a brilliant job.  And so on.]
  • Slight jolt in the stomach - Slight lurch in the stomach
  • Close to - Close up [This one is inconsistently Americanized.]  
  • ...tea with me this afternoon 'round six - ...tea with me this evening 'round six 
    [At what point does afternoon end and evening begin?  Apparently the idea differs between the UK and America.  Again, I assume this was changed for readers like me who would most certainly consider 6pm to be evening.  If pressed I'd say afternoon and evening meet somewhere around 4:30pm.  I'd say 4pm in the afternoon, but 5pm in the evening.]
  • Nor do I - Neither do I
  • Windscreen - Windshield
  • Boot - Trunk
  • Bonnet - Hood
    [I knew that the trunk of the car was the boot in England, but I did not know their term for the hood of the car--the bonnet.  I like that in both countries the term is an old-fashioned piece of headwear.]  
  • Headlamps - Headlights
  • Wing mirrors - Side-view mirrors
  • Motorway - Highway
  • Father Christmas - Santa Claus
    [There was at least one instance where this was not changed for the American books]
  • A mad urge - A crazy urge
  • Next moment - in a moment
  • ...the washing-up in the sink - ...the dirty dishes in the sink 
    [Again, I think we've been outclassed.]
  • Amongst - Among
  • Leapt - Leaped
  • Leant - Leaned
    [Ending words with a -t instead of an -ed lead to some interesting discussion with Matt.  While Americans by and large seem to favor the -ed ending, there are certain instances where it feels all wrong.  I would never say leant, but I would absolutely say leapt.  Language is whack.]
  • For ever - Forever
  • Favoured before all others - Favored above all others
  • Withdrawn into the folds of the black material - Withdrawn into the folds of its black cloak 
    [I have no idea why this one was changed between the UK and American editions.  Maybe just for clarity rather than a language difference.  I am really not sure.]
  • Drawing its rattly breath - Drawing its breath
    [I again have no idea why this one was changed.]
  • Only lowers its hood to - Lowers its hood only to
    [And again, I'm not sure why this one was all flipped around, unless it was just for increased clarity for all readers.  Neither strikes me as uniquely British or American.]
  • A spot of - A bit of
  • Haring out - Racing out
  • Queue - Line [This one is very inconsistently Americanized.]  
  • Good job, too - Good thing, too
  • Pudding - Dessert
    [This one is very inconsistent.  Typically pudding is used in both American and UK versions, but not always.  Occasionally the American books sub in the word dessert.]
I will also add that the Quaffle is described in both UK and American books as being about "the size of a football."  Of course, that brings to mind very different things for a UK reader versus and American one.
It is my assessment that the books got increasingly left intact as the series went along.  The word "queue" was always changed to "line" in The Chamber of Secrets, but by The Deathly Hallows they'd leave "queue" in.  I'm not sure if this reflects a shorter turn around time in the publication cycle as the series became such a phenom.  Perhaps the publishers wanted to release the American edition more quickly and editing for anything but obvious spelling differences (defence, colour, favourite, etc) was sidelined. Or perhaps the editors were leaving in more British language style as part of the increasing maturity of the writing.  The books do mature right along with the characters within--as did the readers, presumably.
Johnny LOVES her toys.  A lot.  The Drug Fish (a catnip infused soft toy) is her favorite.
Photos from July 2019 - February 2020.
This was a superbly fun little project for me.  I got to have my Harry Potter reading bender, a linguistic dork out, AND I learned new stuff, too.  Slamdunk!


  1. I love this, even though I have not read Harry Potter (gasp!). In England, if your answers on the maths test are spot on, you get a high mark and celebrate by reading the sport section of the paper about the latest football match in which your side won again, making it five matches on the trot. In America, if your answers on the math test are correct, you get a good score and celebrate by reading the sports section of the paper about the latest soccer game,in which your team won again, making it five in a row.

    1. Ha! Thanks! Isn't language just fascinating?!?! I find it endlessly so! Thanks for playing along with your own contribution. ;)


Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!