One reads The Angry Island by A.A. Gill – the author with the choppy writing style attributable to dictating everything to a secretary. (He’s dyslexic. He needs to look at Kurzweil or Dragon adaptive technologies; he should be writing his own words, and using those he could. At that point they might actually flow better and sound less like the output of a drunken boxer whacking a keyboard.)

The edition I have (© 2005) is actually the “[f]irst Simon & Schuster hardcover edition [of] June 2007.” The book is about England, a magical land this Scottish travel writer had barely visited despite having lived there for decades. (It’s billed as a treatise on how anger is the default state of the English, but like everything he writes, Gill goes off course on every second page.)

This American version is perverse in the extreme, using American quotation marks (double-single with commas and period always inside) and American spellings (up to and including the title of Chapter 6, “Humor”). It’s as if somebody did a search-and-replace – always difficult with British English due to ambiguous usage of single quotation marks, chiefly closing.

But they didn’t go even halfway far enough, since the book is strewn with unexplained anglicisms: “The son built a full-sized working guillotine in his bedroom, its blade weighted with paving stones. He rigged up an electric trigger to the clock radio, blew up a Li-Lo and lay on it beneath the guillotine.”

What the fuck is a Li-Lo? Some kind of doll?

The demitranslation signals defeat in the face of a pun: “They had all been drunk with Dylan and been hit by Behan, and they all owed each other money [–] their lives a careful seesaw of cheques and balances.” Pardon?

There are the repeated references to “fairy stories” (surely tales), to secateurs and roundabouts and quangos (and DEFRA), to specialities and flexi-time. The entire chapter on queues (actual title) puts too much emphasis on a synonym only New Yorker subscribers will understand. (The American English is “lineup.” They have no other word.) A Brummie or a Geordie accent (covered in one chapter) is like an unfamiliar breed of dog (covered in another). What, at long last, is a Cotswolds, and why is a chapter named after it or them?

I only barely understand this business because I read British magazines and Web sites and, crucially, have an interest in differences in national dialects. To the intended American reader, the effect is confusion. It makes Gill look inept, half-arsed, inarticulate… and dyslexic. This book, written in British English, might be more understandable when translated back to the original French.

Moral of the story: Authors should write in their native dialects and editors should not act like they know better. Nonetheless, I am still waiting to meet a book editor who knew better about anything.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.01.06 16:47. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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