Lost in translation: Part II

Since that last post, I’ve been thinking about what I said about finding changes in spelling acceptable. I’m not so sure about that anymore. I mean, why change anything at all? We are English speakers and English readers: surely we won’t be thrown by alternate spellings, will we? I personally think it would be good for young readers to learn early on that around the world, many English words are spelled differently. It’s all part of that whole learning thing I was talking about earlier.

As many of you probably did, I grew up with the Authorized Version of the Bible (also referred to as the “King James” Version). So from the time I first began learning how to read, I was just as used to seeing “neighbour” as “neighbor” (as in “Love thy neighbour as thyself”), “honour” as “honor” (as in “Honour thy father and thy mother”), etc. From reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass, I learned that there is a difference between “mantel” and “mantle”, just as I learned from Uncle Wiggly that there is a difference between “tyre” and “tire”. Even at the age of six or seven, I don’t remember any of this causing me any mental distress or dismay, nor did it want me to put those books down.

And no matter what SpellCheck says, I refuse, absolutely refuse, to write “gray”. That’s a pretty recent Americanism, anyway. It has been in my lifetime (and I’m only as old as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, mind you) that the spelling was changed from “grey” to “gray” on Crayola Crayons. Visually, the word “grey” is, well, greyer than the word “gray” is. “Gray” looks silly. “Grey” is smoky, mysterious. The misty mountains in the Lord of the Rings are grey, not gray. Notice that while the US versions of Rowling’s books change the spelling of the color (colour?) to “gray”, they do not change the spelling of Fenrir Greyback‘s name. Why not? Just look at it: Fenrir Grayback. Not nearly as chilling that way, is it? The visual aspect of a word carries meaning, too, so why change it?

Well, now that we’ve settled that, here are some of the changes made from the original UK edition of Philosopher’s Stone to the US version. For the sake of space, I’ll dispense with page numbers, but if you really want to go into that sort of detail, E-mail me and I’ll give you that information. I’ll list the word or phrase from the UK edition first, then from the US version. This list is by no means exhaustive! This is only a random sampling, and only from the first book. The other books yield plenty of examples as well (with the exception of Book 7, as I mentioned earlier).

moustache/mustache – Wow, I think I always spell it “moustache” anyway. I didn’t know anyone spelled it “mustache”.

Dudley had learnt a new word (“Shan’t!”)/Dudley had learned a new word (“‘Won’t!”) – C’mon: “Shan’t!” is just a lot funnier.

News reader/Newscaster – Is it really that hard to figure out? Besides, that’s what they do: they read the news!

“Would you care for a sherbet lemon?”/”Would you care for a lemon drop?” – This one makes my blood boil. We later learn that the password to Dumbledore’s office is “Sherbet Lemon” (that’s even in the film). The reason this is the password is that sherbet lemons are Dumbledore’s favorite sweets. And no, a sherbet lemon is not the same thing as a lemon drop! It has a fizzy center (remember Zotz?). BTW it is never “sherbert”. Nope, not even when referring to the frozen confection. No, really, it’s not. It’s always sherbet. Look it up.

Harry heard her walking towards the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the cooker./Harry heard her walking toward the kitchen and then the sound of the frying pan being put on the stove. – We are currently reading Philosopher’s Stone to our seven-year-old. When we got to this sentence, she found the use of “cooker” charming and delightful. When she was very small, her Grandma gave her one of these for Christmas, and she always referred to it as her cooker. No one had ever used that term around her: it just made sense to her.

He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Sellotape./He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape. – As with the “sherbet lemon” example, this change ruins one of the running jokes in the series. “Sellotape” is the common British term for cellophane tape (not too hard to work that one out). In the magical world, people mend things with Spellotape. Changing it to “Scotch tape” for the US version loses the pun.

mouldy/moldy – As with grey/gray, “mouldy” is visually more effective.

Smeltings stick/Smelting stick – This one is just stupid. Even the US version says that Dudley’s school is called Smeltings, not “Smelting”. So why in the world would it be a “Smelting stick”?

motorway/highway – Are there really that many American children who cannot make out what a motorway might be?

Mum/Mom – British children don’t say “Mom.” They just don’t. Ginny would never have called Mrs Weasley “Mom”.

Dressing gown/Bathrobe – See “sherbet lemon” above. They’re not quite the same thing, are they?

Quidditch pitch/Quidditch field – Rowling, in the NBC interview tonight, said she chose the word “Quidditch” because it rhymed with “pitch.” Maybe she should have told that to Levine.

Changing rooms/Locker room – Crass.

Draughty/Drafty – OK, maybe this one is slightly necessary, since almost no Americans pronounce “draught” or “draughty” correctly when reading aloud. “Draught” and “draughty” are pronounced “draft” and “drafty” respectively. No exceptions. (Think of the spelling of “laugh” to help you remember the pronunciation of this one.) The game of checkers is known as “draughts” in the UK, again, pronounced “drafts.”

Fortnight/Two weeks – All it would take is a quick trip to the dictionary for a child to learn that a fortnight is two weeks. This is dumbing down if I’ve ever seen it.

crumpets/English muffins – See “sherbet lemon” and “dressing gown” above. They’re not the same thing! Crumpets are made from a thinner batter and are not as sweet nor as heavy as English muffins. Besides, I’ve heard about “tea and crumpets” all my life. It’s a pretty well-known expression, even if the food itself is not widely known in the US.

queuing/lining up – Anyone who has ever been to Walt Disney World knows what a queue is. (“No smoking in queue!”)

As I said, there are many, many more, but you get the general idea. Are such changes warranted? Are they helpful? I find them annoying. What do you think?


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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6 Responses to Lost in translation: Part II

  1. Sara says:

    crumpets/English muffins

    What???? No way! Talking about Brits sitting around having English muffins with their tea is just about as silly as you can get, because English muffins actually aren’t common at all in the UK (my English roommate was only dimly aware of them until I brought some home to use as hamburger buns for the 4th this year). Not to mention that if they were common there, they probably wouldn’t be known as English muffins, any more than cafe Americano is ever likely to catch on as a term here in the US.

    This stuff is driving me especially crazy because as a kid I adored running across Britishisms in media. We went to England when I was about 11 and I was endlessly fascinated by the fact that you connect your hairdryer to a plug point, throw trash in the bin, and end a sentence with a full stop. My roommate can crack me up to this day with the story of how, his second day in his new American high school, he leaned over during a quiz and asked the biggest jock in his grade for a rubber.

  2. Sara says:

    Oh, and what’s next? Deciding that The Doctor’s favorite candy is gummy bears?

  3. kristen says:

    My first Harry Potter experience was with a UK edition and I’ve been a snob ever since. Our children will definitely read the Bloomsbury editions. But, the last three books we have in US because we bought them the day they came out because we *had to know*. We’ll get rid of them at some point šŸ˜‰

  4. RevJATB says:

    Sara, let’s hope Mark C. chimes in with his rubber story, involving himself at around 18 and a South African woman in her 60s.

  5. RevJATB says:

    And Sara, Jelly Babies rule! (Chocolate babies are OK too.)

  6. RevJATB says:

    Does the latest incarnation of the Doctor eat Jelly Babies? We don’t have SciFi Channel anymore, so I can’t watch it.

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