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My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

"America . . . I'm trying to come to the point"

But first, this musical interlude.

This video, a little choppy to turn a nine-minute song into a four-minute one, shows the Nice performing "America" from West Side Story. That's Keith Emerson on organ, before Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. This isn't exactly "Lucky Man": the Nice used to brandish whips on stage, and as this video shows, Keith Emerson had a thing for stabbing his organ with kitchen knives. Freudish interlopers need not apply.

Point of the post: What the hell's going on with "America"?

No, not like this: Allen Ginsberg's America. (Maybe it's not a great poem, but it's a killer rant.)

Rather, a number of my publishers insist on replacing "America/n" with "United States" or "U.S." In scholarly work, especially dealing with international relations, using the actual name of the country is more precise. The more obvious and underlying reason is an emotional one: people throughout the Western Hemisphere are "Americans," but they are not U.S. citizens. They were Americans before there was a United States, no?

I'm liking this approach more and more, although it's sometimes a pain to implement after the fact. But if authors did everything correctly to begin with, copyeditors could mostly fold their tents.

Now I'm trying to sneak in "United States/U.S." on manuscripts.

You do what you can. "No, but for that one starfish . . ." Oh, lord.

What I'd like to get a handle on, now that I have British punctuation all sorted out (see "British as a Second Language"), is what the hell's going on with "Britain"?

Great Britain
United Kingdom

Here's a lesson for you newcomers: One of the best things you can do as a copyeditor is admit your own ignorance and not be afraid to display it to others. Queries get it off your mind and put the responsibility on someone else.

(Frankly, as a copyeditor, proofreader, or indexer -- and this is beside the point entirely -- I'm not paid to do the author's research. If I happen to be sitting at the computer while I'm working on a bibliography, I'll check a publisher's city name or an incongruous date. But I'm not going to spend a bunch of time doing consistency-making based on Internet searches when the author presumably has access to originals.

I will, however, query all day long. Unless the author or publisher just seems ignant.

And I'm also not, as a copyeditor, going to check to see if all the websites mentioned in the manuscript are still live. FYI.)

So, does Britain = Great Britain = United Kingdom = England? I ask because many authors appear to think so. Are the terms entirely interchangeable? Does "Britain" or "Great Britain" ever = "England"? Always? Why or why not? Are dates tied to any of the different terms? And going with the "America" thing, are there cases when "United Kingdom" is used, but it includes people who don't want to be invited to the party? Does "British" = "English"?


moi said...

Oh, the days when drugs were fun . . .

And that organ didn't sound cheesy, just progressive.

I haven't used America to reference this here country in my writing or editing in quite a while. It's always United States or U.S.

As for the whole across the pond thing, I was always taught that England is a country within Great Britain, the entire island, which is interchangeable with Britain or the United Kingdom.

Aunty Belle said...

ditto Moi.

England is one country within the United Kingdom/ Great Britain (others are Wales, Scotland). But I've never known, is thar' a Lesser Britain?

Some South Americans are surprised to learn we'uns stopped using America when we mean United States. It's probably an United Statesian affectation of noblese oblige toward our Southern neighbors. South Americans refer to their nations "I'm Argentinian"
"I from Uruguay" and not "I'm South American."

About Canadians, I jes's doan know--does they think of themselves as Americans? North Americans? or Canadians?

Europeans reserve "America" for that country they love to hate while sticking their hand out, palm up.

Hope youse been well.

Aunty Belle said...

ooops, thas' ditto Moi (Hermonie) on use of U.S. in mah work...not ditto on drugged organs, about which I know zip.

moi said...

Europeans reserve "America" for that country they love to hate while sticking their hand out, palm up.


czar said...

Moi and Aunty: I'm very happy to hear that both of you write with "United States/U.S." Suffice it to say that many people have yet to follow your leads.

OK. I'm following on Great Britain. If Great Britain/UK is the three countries, do they have a united foreign policy? A common enough culture? If something is stated as "British," does that include "Scottish" and "Welsh"? If not, must there be a distinction between "English" and "British"?

On Canadians, I'm given to understand that they are North Americans -- and, thus, "Americans."

moi said...

Here's how I handle it when I edit:

South America, North America, United States, Mexico (not part of South America), and Great Britain are general designations, used only when referring to the geographical entity or the government.

When referring to individuals born or naturalized in those countries, I say: Canadian, American (for United States only), Argentinian (Colombian, Belizian, Nicaraguan, etc.), Mexican, Welshman, Scot, Irish, English.

Just as one would not say United Statesian or Great Britainian, I would not say he or she is North American or South American, except in instances of, "Her accent sounds South American, but I can't tell which country."

When referring to someone from a North American Indian tribe (U.S. or Canada), I use Native American when speaking generally, i.e., "Most biologists dispute the Native American claim that horses were already in use prior to Spanish occupation.", but, "Jones, a Mescalero Apache, says it is commonly believed among his people that horses were in use long before occupation by the Spanish."

czar said...


"American (for United States only)."

That's a problem for some of my publishers. And you've identified the underlying issue. "United Statesian" doesn't work, which is why the clunkier "U.S. citizen" comes into play. And then is it really "citizen"? Sometimes "resident" is more accurate. Or "whoever picked up the phone that day."

What does "British" mean to you? Someone from England, or England, Scotland, or Wales? One wouldn't think the latter. So when is "British" correct?

I've alerted a friend of mine who is a subject of the Queen of this post. We'll see if he chimes in.

moi said...

I have publishers who have a problem with "American," too, and I tell them to get the fork over their PC selves. Usually, they do. Because not all U.S-ers are citizens and the designation (along with resident or denizen) is cold and stupid besides.

British to me means everyone but the Welsh people. But I still avoid it, preferring to use the separate designations. Still, Great Britain includes Wales as part of the island. Really confusing, so I hope your buddy chimes in . . .

R2 said...

The Great Britain/UK thing is a bit more complicated.

The United Kingdom is made up of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Great Britain (also known as Britain) is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. There is a certain amount of debate as to whether one is British, or English, Scottish or Welsh. This is fuelled by the issue of devolution.

The British Isles are made up of the United Kingdom plus the Republic of Ireland or Eire.

It is confusing and a lot of British nationals don't know the answer either! I hope this helps.

Nick D said...

R2 is correct. The U.K. is the greater political entity containing England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Britain (it's the same thing with or without the Great)is the part containing England, Scotland, and Wales. Britain is mostly made up of the one big island, but I'm pretty sure a lot of little islands surrounding the big island are also part of Britain (Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Shetland Islands, the Orkneys, etc).

The political configuration has not always been the way it is (my son Tommy could no doubt tell you when the different components of the U.K. joined up), and it may not always be this way. As you no doubt know, much blood has been shed over whether Northern Ireland should opt out of the U.K. and join up with Eire (the country in the Southern part of their island). There is a vocal faction in Scotland that would like to separate from the U.K., and an only slightly less vocal faction that would like the same for Wales. They each already have their own parliaments that decide certain issues, but neither is (yet) fully independent.

To be politically correct, you should only use "English" when you mean specifically English, and not Scottish or Welsh or Northern Irish. If you are not sure, you should use "British" to avoid giving offense and/or damaging your own credibility. I recognize that saying "British" leaves the Northern Irish out in the cold, but nobody would say U.K.-ish.

moi said...

Prints out and tacks to forehead.

czar said...

Giants and geniuses, all. Thanks, R2 and Nick. As Moi intimates, now it's just a matter of remembering it.

NickD said...

I was looking this up yesterday to verify some details and discovered that, yes, most of the "islands and islets" surrounding Great Britain are part of the political entity "Great Britain", but the Isle of Man is not, and neither are the Channel Islands (a group of Islands located, as the name suggests, in the English Channel and including (old) Jersey (where my mother lived many years) and Guernsey (a famous type of cow is named after it). These are self-governing entities, although I note that neither fields a soccer team to compete in the European Championships like lambs to the slaughter against larger country's teams like Spain and England, unlike, say the Faroe Islands which does field a team. And, yes, England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland field separate teams in all soccer competitions. Someone in England suggested that perhaps the United Kingdom should field a team in the upcoming Olympics just to show what all the separate parts could do in combination and the response from Scotland and Wales was, essentially, "you wish."

You may also be interested that one of the most enduring memories my kids have of visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, is the graffiti we saw almost immediately upon arrival reading "End London Rule."

However, you are welcome to call me English whenever you like, because I am in fact English. However, don't call Craig Ferguson (of the Late, Late Show) English because I feel sure he would point out that he is a Scot. You can call either of us Brits, though myself I prefer the greater precision of "English."

czar said...

NickD: Not only are you, in fact, English, but you damn well look the part, too. Except you're probably aging better than most of your people. It's that good U.S. lifestyle. What are you now, 29? I doubt Diz will be referring to you in any memo soon as the "rapidly aging czar," as he did with me.

Thanks for the edification. I will come back to the comments here when I want to hammer some hapless author over the use of "British." I can say, "Yeah, well, what do those pesky Channel Islanders have to say about it?"

Nick D said...

Speaking of Channel Islanders, here is some more information I have discovered that you may or may not be interested in.

The Channel Islands, though commonly referred to by that name as though they were one entity, are actually TWO self-governing "bailiwicks", the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey. They are right off the coast of France, but more British than the British. They were invaded by the Nazis in WWII, and many of the inhabitants fled to Britain and signed up for the British forces.

My Mother tells of my Grandfather burying the silver in the front yard before the Nazis came. I don't know if I've ever heard the end of that story, but I believe the silver was still there when they came back after the war.

Aunty Belle said...


Thanky to NickD & R2.

What one takes from this is how folks cling to their specificities. Havin' a fair dollop of Scots blood, an' Uncle too, I unnerstan' the distinction between Scots/ English, an' the grumbling Scots acceptance of "British."

Of course "End London Rule" is the sentiment. Of course the Jersey folks want their own show...an' the graffiti in Galicia reads:"Galicia no es Espana." The Catalan have a similar quip, an' cross the border from Cantabria into Asturias an' youse greeted wif' this sign: "The Principality of Asturias." No need to bring up the Basque!

Iffin' we'uns was wise, we Americans of the United States would return to healthy State's Rights format, let regional rule thrive, hack the Feds by 2/3rds an' live happy ever after.

Great thread, Czar.

chickory said...

LOL@ Aunty. right on.

you never saw such correct speech as you do in museum work. my GAWD if some poor hack said "chinese" and not "asian" they'd be excommunicated. and, its been "Murka since 2000.

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czar said...

Get outta here, ya hack.