28 March 2011

Divided by a Common Language under Enchanted Glass

One consequence of the late craze for British fantasies is that US publishers are much less worried about letting young American readers see original British language. Indeed, readers of the sort who know what Hogwarts house they would belong to might even demand those exotic details.

Here’s an example from Diana Wynne Jones’s Enchanted Glass, as a character flips through a telephone book:

“I’ve been through all the Browns twice now,” he told Aidan, “and there’s no Brown of Melstone Manor in here! The wretched crook must be ex-directory. He would be!”
Context makes it easy to figure out that what this British character calls “ex-directory” an American would call “unlisted.”

Another character in the book regularly makes “cauliflower cheese,” and to confirm that dish exists here’s a recipe. It even has a Wikipedia entry. In contrast, the “big, sloppy bowl of potato cheese” that same character sets out in chapter 8 has no equivalent webpages, indicating that she’s just thrown stuff together, and the result doesn’t even necessarily pass muster as rural English cuisine. I wouldn’t have gotten that nuance if I hadn’t tried looking up both phrases.


Richard Bensam said...

I agree with your description of the character impression we're meant to take from those dishes, but it must also be said there is such a thing as a potato gratin, which is much the same as the cauliflower cheese recipe with potato instead.

(As a matter of fact, this post has given me a craving for both dishes so I'll have to do some shopping tomorrow!)

J. L. Bell said...

And a fine potato-cheese casserole would be nothing to spit on, either. I think Jones chose the ungastronomic phrase “potato cheese,” plus the adjective “sloppy,” to signify that this particular dish is something only a teen-aged boy just home from soccer would ask to eat. (And he does.)

Anonymous said...

Technically it would be something that a teenage boy just in from FOOTBALL would ask! :) Hey, it's not our fault the USA is the only company to call a wussy version of rugby (Seriously, all that padding?) "Football".

J. L. Bell said...

Come on! Our national sport has more concussions than yours.

(Of course, we may both take a back seat to the Canadians.)

Richard Bensam said...

"Hey, it's not our fault the USA is the only company to call a wussy version of rugby..."

Hah! But contrary to popular belief, the USA is not actually a company. It's several companies.