Bridget Jones’s Diary is a best-selling novel by the English
author, Helen Fielding. The book was first published in Great Britain in
1996; the first American edition of the book was published in 1998. On
both sides of the Atlantic the book stayed on the best-seller list for
several months. The novel was such a success that it was soon followed by
a sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Both of these books
have also been made into movies.
Bridget Jones is single, thirty-something English woman who worked
first in publishing and later for a TV company. The book consists of her
diary entries; every day starts with a list of her weight, calories
consumed, cigarettes smoked, and alcohol units enjoyed. Bridget’s life is
a constant struggle with weight problems, boyfriend problems, problems
with parents and all the other typical challenges women today face.
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a very British book. It is situated in
London, and instead of trying to appear universal in its references, it
parades British celebrity names, TV-programs, magazines, stores and
products. In an internet interview Helen Fielding said that only very
little was changed from the British version to the American one
(Interviews). What kind of changes were made in translating such a British
book to the American market? How much is “very little”?
Differences in Spelling
In her book An Introduction to American English, Gunnel Tottie
states that most differences in spelling between British and American
English are of a systematic nature and follow certain, clear rules (10).
In Bridget Jones’s Diary many of these spelling regularities can be
found. Not all differences, however, follow those rules, and sometimes
both British English and American English can have parallel spellings of
the same word (Tottie 11).
In American English, the British endings –our and –er are
usually changed to –or and –re. These examples were found in
Bridget Jones’s Diary:
|British version1 ||American
According to another rule, American English has only one letter l
before different endings, like -ing and –ed. American
English also prefers the shorter version, simplifying the British English
ending –logue to the form –log. There are systematic
differences also in words ending with –ence Some words, which are
spelled with -ence in British English, are spelled with
–ense in American English. Examples of these also appear in the
However, not to make things too simple, there are exceptions to the
rule. In British English the word is practise whereas in American
English the same word is spelled practice (BV 196, AV 170).
The spellings of loanwords from Greek and Latin often have differences.
Americans have a more simple spelling, using only e instead of
ae or oe as in British English. Though there are many rules
guiding to the right spelling of words, great many words behave
irregularly and should simply be memorized. Even though Bridget Jones’s
Diary has kept many references to the British culture unchanged, all
the spelling differences have been accurately corrected.
aging (127) |
pajamas (258) |
Different spellings are not the only dissimilarities between these two
versions. There are also several lexical differences. Food and car
terminologies are among those generally with the most differences
(Hopkins), and also in Bridget Jones’s Diary these areas use their
own vocabulary. Some English brand names have been changed to common nouns
or to some other brand names, which the American publisher feels are more
familiar to the American readers.
- In the British version one opens the bonnet (38) and puts
something into the boot (281) of the car whereas the American
version uses the words hood (34) and trunk (244).
- The British Bridget Jones has wholemeal toast (74),
jacket potatoes or jackets spuds (74), Frankfurter
sausages (116) and vanilla pods (266), whereas the American
Bridget eats whole-wheat toast (65), potatoes or baked spuds
(65), frankfurters (100) and vanilla beans (232).
- In the British version there are snacks like peppermint Aero
and Hobnobs, the dishes are washed with Fairy liquid, and
Codis is taken for headache. The American version equivalencies are
Toblerone, chocolate biscuits, washing-up liquidand Aspirin.
An interesting detail is that Peppermint Aero, a popular chocolate bar
in England, has been changed to Toblerone, another European chocolate bar.
In this particular book the localization has not clearly been executed to
the utmost. Codis is a common painkiller in the Great Britain, but it is
not known in the USA.
The old-fashioned saying “happy as sandboys” (BV 42) has been
changed to “happy as larks” in the American publication (37). A
git (98) used in British English for somebody stupid or worthless,
is replaced by the American word geek (85). In American English the
word geek often refers to someone who is very interested in
computers, a nerd.
On page 108 Bridget Jones refers to screwing up her [lottery]
ticket, which means she wrinkles the ticket. In American English
to screw up means "to go wrong”, and to screw, in the vulgar
style, means “to have sexual intercourse”. Thus the American version uses
the word crumple instead. Another example of the word having
different, in this case likewise a vulgar meaning, is the word
bollock. Bridget Jones got a bollocking for being late from
a meeting (BV 275), meaning that she was severely reprimanded. In the USA
the word bollock would be unfamiliar to most people, but in plural
the word has also the same meaning as the word balls referring to
testicles. In the American version Bridget is thus told off for being
late (240). Political correctness hence also guides the choice of
Punctuation and Measurements
British and American versions of Bridget Jones’s Diary follow
their own grammatical rulings and practices, and British English and
American English use periods, commas and quotations marks in a different
way. In many situations Americans use periods in the end of abbreviations
(for example Mr. or Dr.) whereas the British leave the period out (Mr or
Dr). Also the use of quotations marks is dissimilar: American English uses
double quotation marks and British English single quotations marks. In
addition there are varying ways to announce weight. Although both
countries use the same weight system, pounds and ounces, Americans do not
use the unit stone2 (Tottie 78) and
therefore Bridget Jones’s weight is throughout the book reported in a
different fashion. Below there are some examples of these differences:
9 st 3 (7)
129 lbs (7)|
2 lb (22)
2 lbs. (19)|
5.45, referring to time (26)
ten thousand, eight hundred (258)
ten thousand eight hundred (225) |
Probably the most interesting changes are the ones that deal with
various British public figures (comedians, politicians, sportsmen and
actors/actresses). More often than not the characters are mentioned with
some kind of hint to their physical appearance or their manner of
representation. These differences are not within the language, but more on
the level of culture. Some of the names in the British version have not
been changed, either because they are Americans like Alice Cooper (BV 19,
AV 17) and Susan Sarandon (BV 61, AV 53), or else they are assumed to be
otherwise known to the American public, such as Dennis Healey (BV 30, AV
27)), a famous English politician, Germaine Greer (BV 47, AV 42)), an
Australian born writer, and Barbara Cartland (BV 148, AV 127), English
author of romance novels. Most British public figures are however changed
to comparable American ones or to better known British celebrities. In
several cases, instead of using a different name, they have been described
in more general way. Some examples are below.
Bruce Forsyth (11)
Bob Hope (10)|
Joanna Lumley (13)
Goldie Hawn (18)|
It is too Brian Rix… (47)
It is too French farce… (41)|
Noel Edmonds (47)
popular television (41)|
Katie Bloody Boyle (90)
Zsa Zsa Bloody Gabor (78)|
Frank Bough-style (100)
Arnold Palmer-style (87)|
Harry Enfield’s the Slobs (116)
Morecambe and Wise or John Noakes and Valerie Singleton in the Blue
Peter House (124)
Laurel and Hardy on holiday (106)|
Geoffrey Boycott character (166)
northern engineering student (143)|
Virginia Bottomley (176)
Princess Anne (152)|
Sara bloody Keays (186)
emotionally unbalanced ex-wife (161)|
Teresa Gorman (192)
door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman (166)|
red Christopher Biggins spectacles (197)
huge red spectacles (171)|
Les Dawson (229)
northern fishwife (201)|
Shakira Caine look-alike (231)
Faye Dunaway look-alike (202)|
Finally one more example of differences: in the original version
someone is said to run the miners(300). In Britain miners have
traditionally been politically active in the trade unions, but in America
the association is not necessarily as strong, and therefore in the
American version this idiom has been replaced with to be a
How British is the American Bridget Jones?
In addition to what has been changed, it is interesting to detect what
has not been translated. As mentioned before, Bridget Jones’s Diary
is notably a British book, and many British references have been
maintained in the American version. To shag (BV 12, AV 11), the
telly (BV 45, AV 40), the tube (BV 50, AV 44), to bugger
off (BV 68, AV 59), and to sod (BV 122, AV 105) are just some
examples of those clearly British expressions that have been accepted to
the American book. The word fag is used widely through the whole
book, since every diary entry states how many cigarettes Bridget has
smoked each day. Since the word fag in American English also stands
for a male homosexual, it was quite bold of the publisher not to change
it. However, in the sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason ,
Bridget no longer smokes "fags", but cigarettes.
Bridget Jones’s Diary demonstrates how localization between
British and American English can be quite extensive, even in a book that
has very strong connection to its location. The aim of localization is of
course to help readers from different cultural surroundings to understand
the book better, and undoubtedly American readers do not have trouble
understanding Bridget’s undertakings. Bridget Jones’s Diary had
already been a huge success in the Great Britain when it was published in
the USA. One can not but wonder would the localization have been carried
out differently had the book and the author been less known.
- The British version of the book is later referred to as "BV" and the
American version as "AV". When there are lists of differences later in the
text, the left column is always from the British version and the right
column from the American version. The page numbers of each version follow
the word in parenthesis.
- 1 stone = 14 pounds
- The interviews on the Barnes and Noble web page are only accessible
by clicking on "Interviews & Essays" at left-center on the page. The
citation in this paper is to the first interview, consisting of reader
questions presented to Fielding via an anonymous moderator. The citation
data specifically is to Fielding's reply to a question by 'Suki Mitchell
from Bradenton, FL' in this interview. The date given for the interview
is "Wednesday, June 10th"; this is assumed to be in 1998 since there is no
other Wednesday that was a "June 10th" between the book's publication and
2009. 1998 was also the year in which the American edition of the book was
published. The second interview on the page (undated) was conducted by
Ashton Applewhite. While it is also relevant to the topic of this paper,
no information from it has been cited.
- Fielding, Helen. Bridget Jones’s Diary. London: Picador, 1996.
- - - - . Bridget Jones’s Diary. New York: Viking Books, 1998.
- - - - . Interview.
Interviews and essays. Wednesday, 10 June .3 BarnesandNoble.com. Viewed 09 January 2009.
- Hopkins, John. D. FAST-US-1 Introduction to American English.
Lecture. Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere,
Finland. 8 September 2008.
- Tottie, Gunnel. An Introduction to American English.
Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 2002