He Must Mean Trunk

Writing about the accents I hear in my head while reading yesterday made me think about another recent case of some literary American/British English differences.

While on holiday recently, I was reading Christine by Stephen King (the one about the killer car). Early on, a character makes reference to the titular Plymouth Fury’s boot. Which seemed odd, because that’s the British English word, and the characters were all American. But then I thought it might be a local Pennsylvania thing, like how many of King‘s works use words and structures from his native Maine.

But then it happened again, mentioned by the narrator, and I noticed that the book also regularly mentioned her bonnet too (unsurprisingly there are a lot of references to car parts in the book). It simply couldn’t be the case that Pennsylvanians used these two British English words for car parts, and then used American English the rest of the time. I realised what was going on.

Clearly the publishers had changed American English words (or at least just hood and trunk) to British English for editions of the book released in the UK and Ireland.

It was weird. I could kind of see their logic: the people reading this use boot and bonnet, so we should use those words in the book too. But here’s the thing: I know that Americans say hood and trunk, and I’m sure most British-English speakers reading the book do too. I don’t know if the publishers made this choice to make it a smoother read, or because they actually think we wouldn’t know what a hood and trunk are, but it didn’t work, for me anyway. Each time it took me out of the book, because I knew the characters would never use those words. Although I also know that cars aren’t sentient beings capable of vengeance, but that never took me out of the story every time Christine killed someone.

The worst thing about doing something like this, even if it’s well-intentioned, is that it makes the world more boring. Even if I’d somehow never come across the terms before, I’d be able to figure them out over the course of the novel. He popped the hood and looked at the engine: it’s not like I might think it’s the cuphholder, is it? That’s how I learned so much of my vocabulary, and it helps us to become aware that there are other forms of English out there, that different people have different ways of using language, but that deep down, whether we be Irish, British, American, or vengeful demon car, we’re all the same.

2 thoughts on “He Must Mean Trunk

  1. I was surprised when, scrolling through New South Wales’s road rules, I spotted a law prohibiting travelling in boots. At first I thought footwear, then I realised it meant that part of the vehicle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ancient reply here, but I was similarly surprised when the American release of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy replaced “torch” with “flashlight” (from when Dentarthurdent investigated that his notice of demolition was posted prominently in an unilluminated room of the civic building). As a Canadian, I had read the British original, but because we use ‘flashlight’ almost in exclusivity, I actually interpreted the original usage of ‘torch’ in the medieval “with a flaming torch” sense, which made it even funnier the first time around. To see that replaced with “flashlight” was a bit of a disappointment for me in more ways than one.


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