The Reason Hemingway Wrote in Paris

It’s because no one in France understood what he was writing, so they didn’t give him crap about his own language.

There’s an (unattributable but maybe GBShaw) saying, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Now you see what I did there? I used double quotes. I have recently learned that not only does our language thwart communication, but so does our grammar and spelling. I’m looking at these people I live side by side with as though I’m from another planet.

A planet with more common sense.

The English put single quotes around a quoted sentence, or a line of dialogue. Then if there is a single word within a sentence, they put double quotes. How does this make “sense”?

Quotes are cushions, they keep the words safe. Why would you choose to use half the amount of protection you are lavishing on a quote? If you appreciate another person’s words so much you want to quote them, respect them enough to give their quote the full benefit of fortification. Double quotes stand out. They are noticeable. Sometimes I don’t even see single quotes and then I don’t realize I’m reading something important. Why do single words get this treatment but not entire sentences? It seems mismatched – you’re overwhelming a single word with all that quotage, while leaving the sentences or paragraphs to fend for themselves. I don’t get it.

I say double quotes for all! Maybe it’s my over-consuming American nature, my more-is-better-than-less complex, but single quotes are basically apostrophes with an overinflated sense of self, and I don’t like them.

There. I said it. I am starting a rumble with single quotation marks.

Then there is the issue of “z.” Which is “zed” over here. Let’s not even get into it. I don’t care to know why a letter gets to be a word…and why it’s the only letter which merits such status. It’s not like you use it that way when writing words. Zedoo. Zedest. Zedydeco. Zedeitgeist. Zedodiac.

No. you don’t do that. That would be dumb. So why call it that in the first place?

On top of that, you English you, poor little “z” is already underused and unloved. So why are you trying to take away some of its action? Why organise? Why characterise? Why specialise and recognise? These words have a sexy little zzzzzz to them. Why diminish them with that stuffy old “s”? Don’t get me wrong, “s” is one of my favorite letters. Also one of the most used. I guess I’m an alphabet socialist. Redistribute the spelling so everyone gets an equal share. (But you know, I don’t support the “z” for “s” swap. Bratz. Those dolls suck.)

We could talk about the additional “u” in words where you don’t hear it, but what’s the point?

As someone trying to make my life out of words, these things are kind of a big deal to me. It never occurred to me that doing a creative writing Masters in England would stifle my creativity in ENGLISH. But it is. My three American classmates  and I (one quarter of the course) were told to line up our words with the British way of thinking. Spelling, grammar. But that feels so disingenuous. I am an American writer. My story is American. Not British. To write “favourite” and “colour” – that’s not who I am. It feels like I’m trying too hard to fit in.

I deal with this a lot, in every day conversations, choosing my words: do I say my American word, or do I try to use the British equivalent, with sounds harsh or tacky or ingratiating coming out of my mouth? But when it comes to my writing…I’m trying to be creative. I’m not writing an academic thesis. I’m writing a book. It may be nonfiction, but it’s going to be the inner workings of my mind, a first person narrative, a memoir. And my first person “I” double quotes everything (even my air quotes are double) and recogniZes the value of that alphabetical “caboose.” if i chose to do the entire book in lowercase letters that would be my creative prerogative because i’m trying to express myself in a unique and accurate way.

So I might be putting my battle gear on. I’m gonna fight for my Americanisms, because no matter how much I love this country I currently live in, it is not mine. To write like it is would make me look like an arse (see? Doesn’t that sound lame coming from me?)

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”! Game on. I never thought the English would be my foes, but sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe is right.

(Also, standard letterhead paper here is 8.3in x 11.7in. Can’t we all just get along?!?)

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Reason Hemingway Wrote in Paris

  1. Excellent, as always. Haha!! (Or do I mean, “Ha ha”?!)

  2. nadine

    When in Rome…

  3. nadine

    I always write “grey” instead of “gray”. I have no idea why. I just like it better.

  4. EddieB

    Isn’t a single quote just an apostrophe in the wrong place?

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