I Speak Canadian but my Editors are American

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

Editors of comic strips have a pretty tricky job at times.

They do the basic overview looking for spelling errors.  They make sure the short sleeve shirt your character is wearing in panel one hasn’t inexplicably been drawn with long sleeves in panel four.  They watch for offensive gags and words that will get you into trouble with your client newspapers that might ultimately cost you your little piece of real estate on their comic pages.

And then there’s the linguistic grey area of expressions and phrases.  That’s what happened to me with this week’s strips about Kim sending her son, Danny off to university for the first time. (August 26-31)  After I had submitted this week of strips, my editor emailed me about three phrases that she said “gave them pause” and asked to make some changes for clarity.

I didn’t have a problem making the changes…but the phrases they thought were strange surprised me because they are commonly used here.  And by here, I mean in Canada.  The tricky part was finding the words and phrases that worked in both “Americanese” and “Canadianese”.  (Apologies to readers in other international countries…there’s no way we  could cover everyone’s lingo!)  So…here’s a little behind-the-scenes look at the editing process between the Canadian cartoonist and her American editor:

1.  Monday, August 26 – COLORED PENCILS

Danny colored pencils

I had written this using the phrase “pencil crayons”.  That’s what we have always called them.  “Colored pencils” sounds funny to me but using this phrase wasn’t an issue as it gets the message across and it doesn’t change the overall meaning of the strip.  (To all you Canadians reading…I know…I KNOW….”COLOURED”…but trust me, I won’t win the “u” issue)  The funny thing with this change is that the very next time I came to this web site, there was a Wal-Mart ad featured that was advertising “Pencil CRAYONS”.  Even stranger…I was in Wal-Mart yesterday looking for push-pins and I overheard a mother asking her daughter if she needed “colored pencils”.  I’ll be tuned into this phrase now whenever I read or hear either descriptions again.  I guess hearing that mother say “colored pencils” means that the change is universal enough…although I’d be willing to bet she was a transplanted American woman.

2.  Wednesday, August 28:  LIVE ON CAMPUS

Danny live in residence 082813

I had written this using the phrase: “He’s going to live in residence,”.  Here’s the slightly abbreviated exchange between me and my editor that took me from “in residence” to “live on campus”:

E.  –may I change that to “live in a residence hall”? (The American version would usually be “live in a dorm”) Note: she is trying to suggest a change that stays as close to my version as possible.

Me.  I’m not really sure “live in a residence hall” sounds right…it sounds pretty stiff…we just say live in residence or “staying in res”…but I don’t think that’s a good way to say it.  We use the term dorm room too…it might be better to change it to “he’s going to live in a dorm”

E.  Interesting!  I’ve never really heard that phrase; it was always “living on campus” or “in the dorms.”  I guess it’s just a regional thing.  Sounds like “live in a dorm” would be our best bet for universality.

Me.  “Living on campus” sounds better to me…then there’s no regionality to dorm or residence.

A bit later, after we had signed off on the changes, my editor sent me this:

“By the way, out of curiosity, I asked two more fellow editors if they had heard the phrase “live in residence” in their (Floridian) college life:  One had not; the other had, but only among Canadian friends.  (Excepting in a professional capacity: “professor-in-residence”, “artist-in-residence.”)  I’m a Southerner, but (another two other editors), both New Yorkers, also found it unusual, which gives support to the Canadianism vs. Americanism theory.”

3.  Friday, August 30: HOOK UP

Danny hook up 

The above excerpt is what I sent to my editor.  Her response: “Hook up” is typically used in a less innocent manner, especially in a college setting.  Is it OK if I change that to “meet up” or is there another phrase you’d rather use?

Oops.  As soon as she pointed this out to me, I realized I shouldn’t have used “hook up”.  It’s not that I’m not aware of today’s meaning but I guess I wrote it out of habit from a time when it didn’t mean…well, you know.  In another funny coincidence, I read this Zits strip not too long after this discussion…

zits hook up

I run into these American/Canadian differences in expression every once in a while and it’s kind of interesting to see how the language expressions differ.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s not actually a Canadianism on my part and more an Ontario-ism.  What do you think?  Any Canadians out there use “in residence” or “pencil crayons” or is it more regional than I think?