P is for Petrol (although this post is not much about petrol at all)

There are some examples of different word usage in the UK and the States that I think are almost too obvious to mention. And the petrol v gas choice would, I thought, have been one. But at the weekend Child 3 started reading The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage by Enid Blyton. On page 10 she read:

“some fire expert they brought down with them said that petrol had been used to start up the fire.”

“What’s petrol?” she asked.

And of course we explained and of course it is no big deal, but it did get me thinking about cultural differences and wondering whether there was a US equivalent of Enid Blyton. For those not familiar with her, Enid was a prolific writer of series upon series of books for kids under 10. There has been some snobbishness about the quality of her books over the years, but I’ve just read an article, catchily entitled, “Are the days of Enid Blyton bashing over”, that suggests her popularity in the UK remains high.

I should probably ask some of my American friends if there is a similar author over here, but I had a little think for myself first and an American series I loved  when I was young sprang to mind. Nancy Drew of course! The good news is that Nancy is still going strong. Like the Famous Five and the Secret Seven (never liked them. They were mean to the little sister. As a little sister myself, I could not approve) and the Five Find Outers, Nancy has had a range of makeovers, both in style and substance. I have had a jolly time reading about Nancy Drew today. I discovered that Carolyn Keane is a pen name and lots of people wrote the books. I’ll admit I was shocked. Shouldn’t have been, but I was. And I also learned that the books were revised in the 1960’s to remove racist stereotyping. Definitely something in common with Enid Blyton books there.

In fact while Child 3 continued reading The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, we noticed another way in which that particular book might be changed to reflect current social sensibilities. “Why,” asked Child 3, “is Fatty called Fatty. That’s not very nice.” Here’s the answer from the book:

“… somehow the name of Frederick Algernon Trotteville just seemed to suit him.

‘F for Frederick, A for Algernon, T for Trotteville,’ said Pip suddenly, with a grin. ‘F-A-T; it describes you rather well!’

Frederick Algernon Trotteville looked rather cross at first, then he gave a grin. ‘I am rather fat, aren’t I?’ he said. ‘I’ve an awful appetite, and I expect I eat too much.’

‘Your parents ought to have known better than to give you three names whose initials spelt FAT,’ said Daisy. ‘Poor old Fatty!’

Frederick Algernon sighed. He knew quite well that from now on he would be Fatty. He had already been Tubby and Sausage at school – now he would be Fatty in the holidays.”

Here is a picture of the poor tormented soul. I don’t expect counseling was available for him (the book first came out in 1943), but he looks like he is coping okay.

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