14 January 2007

Divided by a Common Language in Silver City

On the Cybils shortlist for Fantasy & Science Fiction are two British novels, as well as two American and one translated from the Italian.

Of course, British novels often also need some translation as well. I suspect that an editor at CarolRhoda carefully changed "bags of crisps" in the UK edition of Silver City, by Cliff McNish, to "bags of chips," as the phrase appears in my edition. Because in Britain, of course, "chips" are what we Americans call "fries."

However, the US text still describes boys arriving on the scene in "vests." One imagines children dressed like little waiters. And that image is even odder since the text makes clear that other children arrive in pajamas, nightgowns, T-shirts, and other casual dress.

And now what only seems like a digression...

A few years ago, my godson and his brother were going to be ring-bearers at the wedding of their longtime babysitter. I was privy to a conversation between her and their mother, both Americans, about what the little boys should wear. The boys' father, who's largely English, came in.

"Honey, we have an idea for the boys' outfits," his wife said. "Vests!"

"Riiight," he said.

I'm still trying to learn how to say "Riiight" the way this fine fellow can. With his excellent English education, he can make the same syllable mean either of these things:

  • "What a fascinating and original idea; already I'm deep in thought about its implications."
  • "You are an utter loon; excuse me while I go guard the children."
Of course, that same English training prevents him from actually expressing either response.

Fortunately, at that moment I happened to recall that what Americans call "vests" are what the British call "waistcoats" (pronounced "weskits," but that's another story). Once I explained that, it came out that what the British call "vests" are what Americans call "undershirts"--in particular, the sleeveless kind. That makes more sense in Silver City, doesn't it?

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