Moose know when autumn falls
I’ve always been confused by comments I’ve regularly heard about the words autumn and fall. I think there is a misunderstanding of Churchillian character (“separated by a common language”).
Autumn is the exclusive term for the season in the UK. And many people seem to think it is exclusively a British term for what Americans call fall and that the word autumn is just as foreign a word for US English speakers as fall is for our British and Irish friends. This is incorrect. Autumn is an accepted and widely used synonym for fall in the US and I suspect Canada. Perhaps I could argue that fall is a foreign word in UK English since, while perhaps recognized, it gives pause to readers, possibly eliciting an internal chuckle. This is not true for US speakers and the word autumn.
Maybe there is an ounce of truth to the this myth but I argue closer to a gram of truth.
While the UK only has the word autumn, autumn is perfectly good in US English. It is true that US English speakers will primarily say fall when speaking, but autumn is an accepted synonym. For unknown reasons, I clearly remember having autumn as a vocabulary word to learn in third grade. And the word autumn is everywhere in American society, particularly advertising. I’d say Americans cannot go a day from September to November without seeing the word in print. Many people often use autumn in their spoken language, particularly when it is fall. And of course, the US is indelibly imprinted by British and Irish literature, so it stands to reason that there are established British terms that we recognize and are comfortable with even if we don’t always use them actively in daily speech. Certainly, autumn is a much more common written word in US English than spoken.
Now let’s get to the question of translation. Since fall is truly an odd term in the UK and Americans are fine reading autumn, I’ve chosen to often use autumn in translations even when the client requests US English, if the primary use of the text is in Sweden or Europe. Why? Because I want my translations to be as inclusive as possible and to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Using autumn allows both UK and US natives to understand and to not get caught up on the chosen word or phrase.
For the same reason, I translate “älg” as moose instead of elk, which is the standard UK English translation. Moose and elk are completely different animals in North America. An American will not know this distinction and will misinterpret what animal is being referred to. The term moose is universally known in the UK (I take my support for this thesis from the Fawlty Towers episode about the moose head). Since the UK has neither moose nor elk and moose is a universally known term, it makes sense to use it even when translating to UK English, again assuming the primary audience is in Sweden, Europe and even the UK. If, however, the text is exclusively for a UK market, I would choose elk instead. But most of what I translate is for the Swedish market where the readers can be US or UK native speakers or non-native English speakers from around the world. So I go for the biggest net.
Counter arguments are welcome below.