How much slang can a writer can get away with? It depends on the country in which their publisher operates. During edits, especially if you have an American publisher, there’s likely to be quite a few changes to ‘slanguage’ which can feel as though it’s stripping a character’s voice, not to mention your own as a writer. It also feels like surgery, ripping out the authenticity of a scene or changing the cultural tone you’ve worked hard to establish.
My Aussie heroine’s ‘bloke’ became a ‘guy’ and the car that I’d described as ‘a lemon’ was rejected. A friend of mine called her protagonist a ‘bastard’. While sometimes a term of endearment between Aussie males, in this case it was intended to indicate the hero’s actions toward the heroine were not acceptable. After the final edit, her American publisher changed it without telling her and she was disconcerted to find her hero turned into an ‘arsehole’, a term that we Aussies think far worse than ‘bastard’.
I’ve always believed that since our common language is English, Aussies and Americans had a great deal in common and we would find it easy to work out slang terms that might not be in use in our own country. Reasonable assumption? I though so.
I was wrong.
Recently I saw an enlightening excerpt of Hugh Lorrie (Dr. House) with Ellen de Generes in which they competed to guess several slang terms from the other’s country. Easy, I thought. Everybody can work out what a ‘chin wag’ is, can’t they?
Nope! Ellen had no idea. She gave Hugh ‘shawty’.
Both Hugh and I said, “What the…?”
Okay—so, maybe we have a few ‘odd’ words but we couldn’t be that different, could we?
Then ‘badonkadonk’ hit the table. While Hugh had no idea, I intuited it had something to do with sex. Well at least it turned out to have something to do with the human body. In the southern states of America, it’s a beautiful backside. Thanks to a new friend on Facebook I got to hear the “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” song. Here’s the link:
Maybe our publishers do know what they are talking about after all. De-slanging our writing, or at least eliminating terms which are not widely used, keeps all our readers in the story.
If I said you had a beautiful badonkadonk, would you hold it against me? Somehow, I doubt even Rod Stewart could sell that song.
By the way, both Hugh and Ellen tied—on zero.