Writing English Part 1: Don’t write like a kook, dude

Writing English Part 1: Don’t write like a kook, dude

How to write American English

Copywriting is truly an international business; in the last year alone I’ve had clients from Denmark, Italy, the US, the UK, Singapore and of course good old Australia.

But, when writing for an international client, it’s important to establish up front which type of English they want to use, American English, Australian English or United Kingdom English (don’t get me started on ‘Singlish’).

You might think writing in each of these languages is as easy as choosing the correct spell checker, but in reality, even though we share a common language, the differences are a lot more complex than just swapping a z for an s.

So, for this three part blog series, I’ve asked two of my copywriting chums to share their thoughts on their own particular vernacular. Today’s post is from Mitch Devine who hails from the US of A. Over the next two weeks we’ll also hear from Belinda of Copywrite Matters fame (representing the Australian camp), and of course little old me to give you the low down on ‘The Queens English’).

Don’t write like a kook, dude – by Mitch Devine

England, Australia and the USA all speak the same language, but sometimes it’s hard to tell. You say localise, we say localize. But only Southern California says it without an accent. (Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.)

Here in the home of Disneyland and Hollywood, much of our so-called culture gets depicted and exported aroundlearn-copywriting-courses the world through music, movies and TV “reality” shows. So everyone probably feels like they know us. Maybe too well.

But hold on. If you get your ideas of Orange County, California, from television shows like The OC, Laguna Beach, and The Real Housewives of Orange County (disclosure: none of which I’ve ever seen—and I live here), you might assume we’re a bunch of spoiled, stuck-up, airheaded poseurs.

After a few episodes of 90210 or Baywatch, you might figure you have a pretty good handle on the lingo and the lifestyle. However, not everyone here speaks “dude,” although the term is still in use. But if you refer to Orange County as “The OC,” you’re probably not from around here.

Whether you’re in Southern California, the South of England or New South Wales, speaking and writing the language can be two very different experiences. If something is “sick” or “dope,” that could be a good thing, depending on the context. And if some guy has “mad steez,” you could be talking about his style or the Huntington Beach-based artist, MADSTEEZ. And there’s a big difference between a “shag” in England and a “Shag” in SoCal.

Even within the relatively small confines of Southern California there are subcultures within subcultures. There’s “The Valley” north of Los Angeles (celebrated in the Frank Zappa song “Valley Girl”), the barrios and gangs of East LA, the rappers and urban scene of South Central LA, Chinatown, Korea Town, Little Saigon in Orange County, the surf and skate scene, the college towns and so on. And that’s just covering Los Angeles and Orange County. Each has its own dialect.

It also helps to know some Spanish around SoCal to understand certain expressions and be able to pronounce the street names and cities correctly. (For instance, La Jolla is pronounced “la hoy-a.”)

Of course, people always speak one way, and write another. It all depends on your audience and what you’re trying to communicate. Keep in mind that writing requires greater precision because the non-verbal cues of conversation aren’t there.

So if you want to use the vernacular of your audience, it’s best to run it by a local writer. That way you can get your message across without looking like a Barney or a kook.

Who is Mitch Devine?

Mitch Devine is an Orange County, California-based marketing copywriter who’s not a model and not stuck-up at all. He helps brands say what they mean and motivate their audiences to respond. He blogs at Love Hate Advertising. Get the full scoop at http://about.me/mitchdevine.

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