English as a First and Second Language

To-may-to/to-mah-to. Patomac/Potomac.

As pointed out by my most astute proofreader, yesterday’s short clip from Longshot Comics Book Three featured the spelling “Patomac” rather than “Potomac.” That was because I’d accidentally grabbed the page from an older backup version, rather than the current edition. It’s yet another example of a name or word that has changed over the years. “Patomac” was one of the spellings of the river in Maryland back when the scene in the comic was taking place, but I ultimately opted to go with the modern spelling for the three uses of the name that occur in the book. It’s less historically accurate, but it’s also less likely to trip up contemporary readers.

If only that were the only alternate-spelling decision I had to make.

One of the most irritating debates I have to have with myself as a publisher, is whose English I should go with. Spellings vary from continent to continent, and there are innumerable differences between British English and American English.

Stuck in the middle in Canada, we use a certain hybrid version of the language that I favour in my books. It’s a smattering of both, which I worry may cause confusion in two of my biggest markets. I don’t care for the often simplified American spellings, but I’m usually not a fan of the hoity-toity British forms of the same words either. Typically, I refuse to spell “colour” or “humour” without a “u” wedged in, but I don’t generally side with the overseas distaste for the letter “z” in everything from “realize” to “civilize.”

With the new editions of Longshot Comics, I decided to fully commit to British spelling. Most of the action occurs in England, while the rest takes place across bits of the British Empire, past and present. It seemed appropriate to go full Brit.

Even then, I had to fight with myself in a scene from Longshot Comics Book Two that featured a prominent American president, prior to his elevation from B-movie actor. It somehow seemed wrong for him to say “memorise” instead of “memorize.” Surely, if anyone across the entire trilogy were to speak in American spelling, it would be Ronald Reagan.

In the end, I stood firm on consistency, and stuffed the British spelling down his very American throat. It serves him right for darkening my teen years with what seemed like certain nuclear annihilation. He may have since been sainted by the Republican Party, but I make no apologies for portraying him as a bit thickheaded.

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