AHA · Authors Helping Authors · Writing Tips

“Pants Versus Trousers — Know Your Audience” by Mercy Pilkington

Trouser LegFor those of you not already schooled in the subject, I have an amazingly insightful revelation: people in England call underwear “pants.” I’ll stop and let that sink in.

Now, if you’re at all touchy about personal subjects, you’ve probably already switched over to Facebook to look at videos of people falling over stationary objects. Come back! I promise “pants” is as gross as this post gets!

If you’re from the US and you picked up a book in which one of the characters scandalizes the neighborhood by walking around in his pants, you might end up a bit disoriented. What’s wrong with pants? Nothing! (I know this literary confusion from personal experience, I’m sad to say, from before I was schooled in the pant-versus-trousers issue).

But here’s the kicker: if the entire book had a number of UK conventions, such as that pesky extra letter in words like colour or had the period outside the quotation marks, for example, you would quickly catch on that this book was written from a UK author’s style.

Quotation marksNOTE: do you even know why the period goes inside the quotation marks in the US, but outside the quotation marks in the UK? It all dates back to Colonial times. With materials arriving by ship from England after spending months crossing the ocean, sometimes it was quite a wait for new supplies. Printers found that as the little block with the period on it would wear out, it kept falling off the end of the tray when they would try to end a sentence. They moved the teensy little period block inside the slightly less teensy quotation mark block, and there it has remained for all time. The end. I really wish it was more profound than some poor printer got tired of picking up the period block off the floor of the print shop. If you ever win on Jeopardy! with this knowledge, you owe me big time.

I swear I had a point when I started this post, and here it is. In this climate of digital publishing where international book borders are slowly melting away, readers are more likely than ever before to read a book by an author who hails from a country other than their own. Keep your writing consistent throughout so there’s no question as to the accuracy of your writing. Don’t worry about the little idioms and euphemisms that make sense in your corner of the globe, but don’t write a tome so fraught with regionalistic style that your audience needs a secret decoder ring to make it work. If your time, money, and interest level allow, consider uploading a US version and a UK version, but only if you feel qualified to reach out to both audiences in their known conventions.

And whatever you do, keep your pants where they belong.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Mercy Pilkington is the CEO of Author Options, a full-service solutions provider for authors and publishers. Her sense of humor leans a bit to the sarcastic side, hence her overuse of the word crap. She is looking for romance titles that do not involved chiseled men with giant penises, and no more vampires unless there is something stunningly different about them that doesn’t involve sparkling. www.authoroptions.com

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5 thoughts on ““Pants Versus Trousers — Know Your Audience” by Mercy Pilkington

  1. Great points here (including the ones that fell off the page!)… And if you are writing for a foreign audience, use a regional/country specific dictionary. Check out the language dictionary options in, for example, Microsoft Word. Some people savor (or savour) the difference between flavors (and flavours).

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  2. Don’t we call ’em pants in America too? I’ve only heard my grandmother refer to them as trousers! But I don’t know anybody in my generation that uses the word trousers.

    I’m an American, but my editor is from London. That helps a lot because I have somebody from a different country giving my book a once-over. I used the term “pinky” in a book and my editor warned me that that was a very American euphemism so I dropped it and just used “finger” instead. I never would’ve thought of that if she hadn’t said something.

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    1. No, the term pants means underwear in England. Not in the US. The closest I can think of is panties, but DO NOT refer to a man’s underwear as panties! I know from experience, it does not go over well. I NEVER knew that about pinky!

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  3. Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!|

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