A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, June 05, 2006

American Way #4: regional dialects?

I've been enjoying the Wildstorm miniseries "The American Way" despite occasional lapses in its portrayal of US history and culture. With the latest issue, it became painfully obvious that the writer is not an american.

We get as far as page two before the point is hammered home by Attorney General Robert Kennedy declaring "this is one hell of a cock-up, letting the world know this New American is a negro." (The story takes place during the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s; "The New American" is a faux-superhero, part of a team created by the government as part of a national morale-building effort during the Cold War.)

I don't know anything at all about John Ridley, the writer of this series, but after reading this issue, I'll bet good money that he's british, based solely on his use (and misuse) of slang. Habitually, he has characters use words and phrases that I have only heard used by people from Great Britain, such as the aforementioned "cock-up".

Other examples:
On page 5, Lucky refers to "our east-coast minders." An american would have called them his "handlers."

On the same page, Southern Cross says "Bad enough you shine us into thinking...." I've searched a few online slang dictionaries, as well as Dictionary.com, but I can't find any definition of "shine" that fits the context in which it's used here. If this is in fact a southern US term, I've never heard it before. I welcome a correction or clarification.

On page 7, Freya says "The path to bettering Pharos doesn't travel through me." In this case, the term "bettering is used to mean "getting the better of." In american usage, "bettering" would mean "to improve." Granted, Freya is allegedly a Norse goddess, but it's clear she learned to speak english in Europe.

Aside from the misuse of slang, there is the matter of sentence structure and rhythm. Every character in the book speaks like a brit, even the ones with allegedly southern accents.

I found the dialect errors in this issue jarring enough to mar my enjoyment of the story. Fortunately there was a really brutal and violent conclusion to the comic which effectively engaged my lowbrow american sensibilities and allowed me to forget about the language thing. Here's hoping the next issue does a better job of making the characters sound like they actually live in the country they are portrayed as being from.

As Henry Higgins said, "why can't the English speak english?"

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