Tim Parks, "Learning to Speak American", NYR:
In 1993 I translated all 450 pages of Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony without ever using the past participle of the verb “get.” The book was to be published simultaneously by Knopf in New York and Jonathan Cape in London; to save money both editions were to be printed from the same galleys; so it would be important, I was told, to avoid any usages that might strike American readers as distractingly English or English readers as distractingly American. To my English ear “gotten” yells America and alters the whole feel of a sentence. I presumed it would be the same the other way round for Americans. Fortunately, given the high register of Calasso’s prose, “get” was not difficult to avoid.
Now in 2012 I am obliged to sign up to “gotten.” Commissioned by an American publisher to write a book that explores the Italian national character through an account of thirty years’ commuting and traveling on the country’s rail network, I am looking at an edit that transforms my English prose into American. […]
Or again, does a “newsagent” really need to become a “news dealer,” a “flyover” an “overpass,” a “parcel” a “package,” or in certain circumstances “between” “among” and “like” “such as”? Does the position of “also” really need to be moved in front of the verb “to be” in sentences like “Trains also were useful during the 1908 earthquake in Catania,” when to me it looked much better after it?
God save us from such copy editors.
This one is clearly imposing a bizarre amalgam of genuine trans-Atlantic differences, uninformed personal opinions about such differences, and ignorant Zombie Rules that are not and never have been valid anywhere in the Anglophone world.
Yes, Americans always call "overpass" what Brits generally call "flyover" — that one would lead to general puzzlement on the part of American readers. But parcel is a perfectly reasonable term for Americans — it's "United Parcel Service", for goodness' sake, not "United Package Service". And the relative frequencies (per million) of parcel and package are not all that different in the Corpus of Contemporary American English and in the British National Corpus:
Taking each frequency as a percentage of the sum of the two alternatives helps make the similarity clear:
It might well be that in some circumstances, changing "parcel" to "package" would be a good idea — but this is nothing like the flyover vs. overpass situation.
And now we come to three cases where the copy editor is trying to pass off his or her own allegiance to various Zombie Rules as differences between British and American usage. This is dishonest or ignorant or both.
The idea that between must be used for two alternatives, and among for more than two, is a Zombie Rule with a pedigree. It was apparently invented by Goold Brown in 1851, in his Grammar of English Grammars, in order to demonstrate his superiority to earlier grammarians who had "misused" between for more than two alternatives. As the entry in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage observes, the validity of this "rule" is explicitly denied by both the Oxford English Dictionary and by Noah Webster, and "violations" can be easily be found in writers like Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, and the Fowler brothers.
An even worse stupidity is the belief that like mustn't be used as a preposition, so that all attempts must be changed to "as" or "such as". No competent usage authority seems ever to have claimed this — instead, as the entry in Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage explains,
The frequent adjuration against conjunctional like is believed to have frightened some people into using as for all purposes, even for a preposition. This sort of overreaction is called hypercorrection …
As for the choice of like vs. such as, there have been several scattered attempts to create "rules". One idea is that such as is for examples and like for resemblances; another is that such as should be used with lists of two or more items, while like should be used for a single item. Most authorities ignore the issue or consider the rule-inventors to be nit-pickers at best and fantasists at worst — you can read the MWDEU entry for details, but in any case, this has nothing whatsoever to do with differences between British and American English.
The business about the position of adverbs like also is the worst nonsense of the lot:
Does the position of “also” really need to be moved in front of the verb “to be” in sentences like “Trains also were useful during the 1908 earthquake in Catania,” when to me it looked much better after it?
Mr. Parks' copy-editor is an adherent of the "split verbs rule", which was apparently invented by the committee of anonymous law students who wrote (early editions of) the Texas Law Review Manual on Style. This is a kind of Double Zombie Rule, since it involves the extension of the Zombie Rule about splitting infinitives ("boldly to go" rather than "to boldly go") to all strings of pre-verbal grammatical elements (thus "also were useful" rather than "were also useful"). The extraordinary result is to forbid exactly the most most common and natural positioning of adverbs in such strings. See "The split verbs mystery" (8/23/2008) for some discussion and citations — but again, this has zilch to to with differences between British and American English.
We could discuss the got/gotten distinction, or the rest of the other often-imaginary trans-Atlantic differences that Tim Parks lists, but I'll spare you. He should have instructed his publisher to fire that copy editor on the grounds of incompetence and dishonesty. Instead, he accepted the fiction that the proposed changes represent the norms of American usage, and tried to rescue something positive from the experience by writing a blog post about it.
The strangest thing about the whole episode is that the editors of the New York Review, who presumably ought to have been able to smell at least one of the many dead rats in this story, instead just joined Parks in meekly accepting the copy editor's litany of linguistic nonsense. One more example of the nervous cluelessness of modern intellectuals in matters of usage.