I love to get feedback on my stories. I get a thrill when someone tells me how much they enjoyed something I’ve written, and I take seriously every piece of negative criticism, whether I agree or not. After all, I’m writing these stories for the enjoyment of an audience, and if that audience doesn’t enjoy what I’m writing, why bother?

However, when I submitted my story “Slumming It”, I was amused and intrigued by one piece of anonymous feedback:

“Get a clue in how the world uses and then views various items before you submit anymore stories. To the world it’s just an “ass” not arse, bum, etc used in isloated [sic] locations far from general knowledge.”

So I got out my National Geographic Atlas and did a few calculations. The number of native English speakers outside the US and Canada is around 100M, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There are also the countries where English is the official language, but where other tongues are routinely spoken — eg India, South Africa. In still more places, English is used routinely, even though it’s not the state language — eg Israel, Singapore, Nigeria, Botswana, Kenya, Holland, etc. Add up all of the people who regularly use English in these countries, (and I’m indebted to some Literotica readers for these figures) and you end up with a figure over around 300M — more than the number in the US and Canada.

This is just a ‘back of a fag packet calculation’, as we say (of which more later), but the point is that the vast majority of these people speak English with the pronunciation they learned at school, from the radio and from native English speakers they meet. That pronunciation comes from their historical roots, principally from connections with Britain that go back centuries.

So an Indian would say ‘tom-ar-to’, rather than ‘tom-ay-to’. Most Indians I’ve met in India don’t swear publicly — at least, not in English and in the hearing of tourists. However on their own and in ‘safe’ male company, Indian men will, and British, Australian, South African and Irish men I’ve met definitely swear, often profusely. When they do, they use BRITISH pronunciation — hence ‘arse’, rather than ‘ass’. (Though some Aussies pronounce it ‘airse’, rather similar to the southern Irish, and a guy from Belfast would say something closer to ‘orse’.) Incidentally, the Irish say ‘feck’ rather than ‘fuck’ rather a lot as well.

Kiwis — that’s New Zealanders if you weren’t aware, named after the bird and not, as one indignant lady once said to me, after a ‘bloody gooseberry’ — have a whole different way of speaking, that’s delightful as it is weird. In fact, I could write a whole article on local pronunciations across the English-speaking word, but that’s not the point.

The developed world today gets most of its English usage from one source — Hollywood and the American media. People say things like ‘ass’, ‘pussy’, ‘loser’, ‘I am so over it’, etc on films and TV, and there seems to be an assumption among some Americans that (of course) everyone in the world now talks like that. Wrong.

I’m really pleased to report that linguistic diversity is alive and well, not just in how we say things but in the words and phrases we use in spoken and written English. My earlier expression ‘back of a fag packet calculation’ is an interesting one. That would be immediately understood by most of the 60M people in the UK, and probably those in the other countries I listed, as meaning a rough calculation executed on the nearest scrap of available paper — traditionally a cigarette pack, (though not too many people smoke nowadays). In the UK (etc, as above), the word ‘fag’ still means a cigarette, not a homosexual. In these countries, if you want to use a word to imply in a derogatory way that someone is a homosexual, you might use ‘poof’ (or in Australia, ‘poofter’). If you said they were a ‘fag’ or ‘faggot’, though we’d understand what you meant because of the relentless output of Hollywood, it’s not an expression you’d routinely hear over here (or there, in the case of Australasia).

People in the USA are often blissfully unaware of the sheer diversity of speech and language usage across the globe. This is partly because Americans don’t travel outside their borders anything like as much as people elsewhere. (I’ve personally visited 45 countries in all continents except Antarctica, but to some British and Australasian people younger than me, I’m ‘a lightweight’ – ie only just starting). The other reason is that the American media is extremely parochial. I’m constantly amazed at how US news channels might briefly mention a major earthquake in Turkey or serious political unrest in Myanmar, but then lead off with a story about football. (And that will be what Americans call football, not what every other country in the world calls football and America calls ‘soccer’). This leads Americans to think that the rest of the world is a lot like America, and nothing important ever happens there anyway. Frankly, it really isn’t, and it really does. (Don’t get me started on Fox News and US foreign policy…)

But this is about use of language by characters in erotic stories. My reviewer also objected to my use of the word ‘bum’. Most women in the UK will say ‘bum’ rather than the coarser ‘arse’ that their husbands and boyfriends would use; for example, every man dreads seeing his lady friend try on a new dress and utter the unanswerable question ‘does my bum look big in this?’ In my story “Whole Lotta Love”, the rather naïve Melanie, even looking back on events years later, is clearly not comfortable with words like ‘arse’, ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’. Most British women above about 25 tend to fall into this category.

In “Slumming It”, Kelly and Becca are classic ‘Essex Girls’ — not well-educated, earthy, to some extent ‘dog rough’ as the expression (at least here) goes. Essex is a county that borders East London, (probably the roughest part of the capital — I should know, I grew up there), and somewhere where, traditionally, working class people from London went to get out of the City and better themselves. Unfortunately, many took their value systems with them. Kelly and Becca aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade (or in their case, ‘a fucking shovel’). A lovely review of this story from an American reader said how they had enjoyed reading the dialogue, as it was in ‘old English’. Actually, I’d describe it as ‘young English’. Far from picking up American modes of speech, a lot of young people in a 100-mile radius of the capital are using London-isms, so speech patterns like Kelly’s and Becca’s are becoming more, not less, common — in every sense of the word. I don’t think it’s a nice dialect, but it’s the one I grew up with and it’s how a lot of young people talk today.

I always have at least 3 stories on the go at a time, and currently I’m working on one set in late 1930’s Malaya, one in World War 1 and 1920s London and Paris, and a third in 15th century Carcasonne, in the south of France. I’m not writing this last one in Medieval French, but you won’t find the words ‘ass’ or ‘pussy’ in any of these stories, as it doesn’t ring true with what the characters would have said. That to me is the touchstone of how language should be used; does it ring true in the character’s mouth?

So to answer my earlier critic, the language I use in my stories is how people speak in the context of the stories — for example, in places like contemporary London. That’s London, England, not London Kentucky, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio or even Ontario. London is the second most influential financial centre in the world, after New York. It’s the capital of one of the G8 nations, a country probably still in the top 5 global economies, which is home to 60M English speakers and at the heart of a cultural and linguistic network that spans the globe. It is not “an isolated location far from general knowledge.” You won’t hear James Bond (from Daniel Craig back to Sean ‘I only do a Scottish accent’ Connery) say ‘ass’, unless they’re referring to a donkey. Famous British actors from Hugh Grant to Cary Grant would have known their ‘arse’ from their ‘ass’ (if not from their elbow) and would have pronounced accordingly. Noel and Liam Gallagher call each other ‘arses’, Bono probably calls world leaders ‘arseholes’ (or ‘feckers’). Even Mel Gibson and Nicole Kidman would have use the Anglicised pronunciation before leaving their native Australia. Russell Crowe would also have said ‘arse’ before leaving his native New Zealand, and since. (Thanks to as several Kiwis for pointing this out to me, though why they think he’s a good ambassador for their lovely country I have no idea!) Kylie Minogue would not only say ‘arse’ but was undoubtedly fucked there by the late Michael Hutchence.

Admittedly there are probably only about 300M of us who use these pronunciations, vs about 300M who use American variants, so it’s really about 50/50. However, if linguistics were about majority voting, we’d all be speaking Chinese!

I hope you’ve found this little guide to English diversity entertaining and informative. A heartfelt ‘thank you’ to everyone who commented on the first draft of this — I found the feedback fascinating and amusing, and I’ve corresponded with some lovely people. I’d welcome any further feedback on this or anything else I’ve written. However, please don’t criticise (‘criticize’) my English spelling. I’ve had a hard enough time learning American punctuation rules to get past Literotica’s approval process. If I write about Britain, I’ll spell the British way. If you want to see my attempts at writing from an American perspective, try ‘My Mistake’. I really would like to hear whether people can tell that it was written by a Brit. (Cor blimey, grandma, it’s a fair cop but I was in drink when I done it — or something like that.)