It is not until you start writing for an international audience that you realise how much overseas slang New Zealanders need to absorb just to stay entertained. For us it’s a case of continually having to guess at unfamiliar words and phrases, or risk perpetual boredom.
That’s because New Zealand is a country of only four million people – yes you read that right – the whole of New Zealand’s population would fit comfortably into Sydney, squeeze into Los Angeles and only populate London if it were to gobble up some demographic steroids and double over night. So even with the valiant contribution made by the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie epics, a country this small can never hope to cater to all of its own entertainment needs. New Zealanders necessarily watch and read a whole host of content written somewhere else which offers those countries’ own unique linguistic peculiarities and colloquialisms.
Even Australian and New Zealand slang is not exactly the same. New Zealanders, for example, have resisted the seductive attraction of truncating words: – afternoon to ‘arvo’ service station to ‘servo’ or fireman (or woman) to ‘firie’ as the Australians like to do, but on the other hand we have the dubious distinction of having come up with ‘munted’ – a word meaning completed destroyed.
So it’s a jolt to find that this constant exposure to an array of different slang isn’t necessarily the experience of other readers with the luxury of enjoying much more content generated in their own country – readers who can find a dose of Down Under slang and spellings – well – slightly off-putting.
And so up comes the thorny issue of whether a writer should ‘tone it down’ for the audience.
On the one hand a reader is a customer. Shouldn’t readers, especially readers of romance – looking for something high in entertainment and escapist value – simply be able to get what they want without having to break out the dictionary, the internet, or the story to look up an unfamiliar word or phrase?
But then to what sort of literary blandness might that ultimately lead? And if you pause to consider how much of our culture resides in our language – the unique ways we collectively choose to accent it, create and manipulate it, ‘toning it down’ feels somewhat worryingly like denying one’s heritage.
So what to do? It’s certainly one to grapple with and a tricky one in our increasingly global world.