Tag Archives: editorial

A short rant about Harry Potter

One of the very important things I had to bring back from Ireland this time was my own copies of the Harry Potter books, volumes one to five inclusive. (The other two were already here.) We’d started reading them to the kids last year, but to do so I had picked up the first three books cheaply in the thrift store here.

The problem with that, of course, being that they’re the US editions.

I have a beef with there being such a thing as a US edition of anything. Or a UK edition, for that matter; but, and maybe I’m kidding myself here, but I don’t think so, I can’t help thinking that the amendments made to UK books to change them to the US editions go deeper than the other way around.

So it was with a great sense of satisfaction and smugness that I went through the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – sorry, that’s The Sorcerer’s Stone in the US, because heaven forfend the US publishers might credit readers with a little intelligence, apparently – and see exactly what changes were made. Here’s a little list I made.

Original (UK) vs. US edition

  • Philosopher’s stone – Sorcerer’s stone
  • dustbin – trash can
  • shan’t – won’t
  • sherbet lemons  – lemon drops
  • motorbike – motorcycle
  • bobble hats – bonnets
  • jumper with bobbles – sweater with puff balls
  • got – gotten
  • cooker – stove
  • Sellotape – Scotch tape
  • video recorder – VCR
  • comprehensive – public school
  • letter box – mail slot
  • post – mail (but the editor missed one!)
  • holiday – vacation
  • roundabout – carousel
  • food mixer – food processor
  • toilet – bathroom
  • rucksack – backpack
  • hoover – vacuum
  • crumpets – English muffins

(but not [luggage] trolley to cart, oddly enough, which I would have thought a very obvious one)

Now. Really. What a waste of time and a pandering to the US psyche and a dismissal of everyone else that all is. Why not just change the location to suburban New Jersey and be done with it? I mean, if the reader understands that this book is set in the UK, why not let the characters talk like Brits? As soon as Hermione says “gotten”, you can tell that something’s very rotten in the state of Hogwarts. Ron’s mother knitted woolly jumpers, not sweaters, for Christmas; and why on earth would anyone not understand what a motorbike is? Not to mention the fact that the changes aren’t even consistent – sometimes “sweets” become “candy” but other times not.

I want to know if they change the vocabulary in Pride and Prejudice for American readers too. Wuthering Heights? Or The Secret Garden, if we’re just talking about children’s books? If not, what a shuddering shock American students are in for when they have to decipher those tomes, since they’ve had everything handed to them on a plate whenever they read more modern British books.

Growing up in Ireland is not exactly the same as growing up in England, but nobody made any changes to all the British-authored books I grew up devouring. I learned what comprehensive schools were from the context (not in Harry Potter; well before that), because we don’t really have them in Ireland; the same goes for O levels and A levels and GCSEs. I’ve never eaten a sherbet lemon, but I would probably imagine it pretty easily, just as well as I could imagine a lemon drop, for that matter.

Looking in the other direction, my copy of The Outsiders was not a US edition, but I puzzled over the mention of a girl’s bangs for a long time, because we called that a fringe. I figured out that it was something to do with her hair, and the world must have kept turning because I managed to read the book anyway. Similarly with Amy March’s jar of pickled limes in Little Women. I was barely familiar with limes, never mind pickles of any nature, but I coped admirably in spite of it. (I still have very little concept of how you would go about pickling a lime, or why you would want to try.)

Massive generalization alert, but here goes anyway: people all over the world have a greater understanding of daily life in the US than the US does of other countries. People all over the world see US movies and television shows, for the most part not dubbed into their own languages but only with subtitles if necessary. And I’m pretty sure when we read American books they’ve been much more minimally dealt with than everything going in the other direction.

Far be it from me to take a good job from some editor’s hands, but turning UK books into US books (and vice versa) is totally unnecessary. At best it’s busywork, and at worst it’s contributing to the dumbing down of American society.

But (she said as she finally climbed down off her high horse) at least now I can read my children the right versions of Harry Potter without second-guessing every awkward-sounding phrase. It turns out there just are some of those anyway.

US and UK copies of Harry Potter first book

With bonus Star Wars cup because I didn’t bother to crop this.

Slippery slope (A grammar rant)

You know what annoys me?

Well, okay, plenty of things. The sun is too sunny, mosquitoes bite, I have no cookies in the house and yet can’t bring myself to make any because then I’ll eat them all; but no, something else.

The plural of euro, that’s what.

I know, I just lost most of you. Never mind. Come back tomorow, I’ll talk about kids or something.

The euro is the currency of many countries of Europe, and has been for several years now. It was introduced in Ireland only a few months before I left the country, which is why I still have to hunt and peck in my purse to find the right coins whenever we’re back there. At the time I was fully and gainfully employed as an editor – in a whole department of editors, no less – so the issue of how to properly refer to the new currency was discussed in a professional capacity, as it were.

We looked into it. It was discovered and agreed upon that the official word was that the plural of euro (in English) was to be “euros.” Sensible and obvious, since to make a plural in English we pretty much always do just add an s, especially when the singular ends in a vowel.* 

So why is it that, since that time, the entire country of Ireland decided, en masse and seemingly of its own volition, with no editiorial consultation, that if you had ten of these new units of currency, you would not have ten euros? No, no, of course you wouldn’t. You would have ten euro.**

I’ve tried to be good. Lord knows, I’ve done my damndest to hold the line, even from this distance. I talk about euros whenever I can, even in Ireland. All it has done is to make me sound like one of those crazies who insists on saying “fort” instead of “fortay” because it’s a French word, not an Italian one. (This may be another argument for another day.)

Apparently, much as has recently – heinously – happened with the definition of literally – about which I am figuratively hopping mad – common usage has triumphed and what was wrong has become acknowledged as right just because it’s what most people do.

I hate that. Talk about a slippery slope. One minute it’s euros, the next minute people will be advertising banana’s and apple’s and how its over their in the lady’s department and nobody will know where they stand and they’ll have to abolish the apostrophe all together, as well as common decency and saying thank you and not farting audibly in public.

*Collins still says this:
euro. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved August 20, 2013, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/euro

** Dictionary.com is a flipping flip-flopper that refuses to have an opinion, so it says that the plural is either euro or euros.

Transatlantic subtleties: garden vs. yard

First in what I think will be an occasional series, to help those having translation problems they don’t even know are problems.

What I mean is, when I worked in Ireland editing content written for the US market, I felt like I had a decent understanding of American English – a working knowledge, perhaps. Everyone in the British isles has enough familiarity with American TV and movies to know that sidewalk means footpath and vacation means holiday – but there are subtleties that you don’t learn for years (like not to tell an American to walk on the pavement), and misconceptions that go uncorrected, and little things that it takes time to pick up on. I thought I’d help a nation – or two – out with a few notes on such things. (And if I’ve got it wrong, I’m sure someone will help me out in the comments.)

Today: Garden and Yard.

In the UK and Ireland, the space of your property around your house that’s not in your house is called your garden. Even if it’s paved or covered in gravel, it’s pretty much still your garden, but definitely if it’s got anything green in it. Not everyone can aspire to a perfectly manicured lawn, but most people have a garden of some sort, unless they live in an apartment. When you do things in this area – cutting the grass, trimming the hedges, picking up dog poo – it’s called gardening.

In the US, this space is your yard. If you’re doing things there, you’re doing yard work. You can have a front yard and a back yard, and maybe a deck, which would be a patio in Ireland because mostly people don’t have decks. I don’t know why they have raised decks in the US but only paved patios at home. (Anyone?)

If you call your yard your garden in the US, you’re liable to make people think you’re getting ideas above your station. A garden, over here, is something carefully tended and maintained – a vegetable garden or a rose garden, perhaps. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can’t just think they have a garden by opening the front door and stepping onto the grass.

Conversely, if you described your garden as a yard in Ireland, people would envisage a dusty, perhaps slightly industrial, space devoid of any vegetation at all. “Yardwork” does not bring to mind pruning the roses or evicting dandelions, but something more burly and somehow metallic.

One scrubby rhodedendron does not qualify our yard to be called a garden.

No logo

I had another Ikea-related epiphany the other day. This one had nothing to do with yogurt, or sofas, or even utensil holders: it was more of an editorial epiphany, really. As I typed “IKEA” in an e-mail, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder why I wasn’t saying “Ikea” instead.

Thinking that a company name should be capitalized (or otherwise accessorized) a certain way just because that’s how the company’s graphic designers decided its logo should look is a particular bugbear of mine, and yet here I have been doing exactly that for as long as I’ve been writing the name of a particular Swedish furniture superstore and all-round place of wonder. I don’t write Macy*s or GAP when I refer to those fine establishments, so why on earth have I been writing IKEA in all caps?

If you want a better say-so than mine to reference for how to treat logos like real words, look here. This man knows what he’s talking about. (And yes, I stole my Macy’s example from his piece.) 

In my defence, if there is such a thing, perhaps its foreign provenance lulled my subconscious into thinking that it was an abbreviation: Ideal Kitchens Ever After, or maybe something more Scandinavian, like Inbyn Knappa Ekarp Aspelund*, perhaps. Maybe it thought it was the initials of the nice man who started the shop: Ingmar Knut Edgar Allenpoe**. Or maybe it’s just that after looking at the damn website and everything in the place and driving by the enormous sign so often that my two-year-old thinks anything written in yellow on blue says “Ikea,” the logo had worked its insidious magic and subjugated my sensible inner editor. For shame!


So then, in the interests of completeness, I went to Wikipedia and looked up Ikea. And lo! and behold! It feckin’ well is an abbreviation*** after all: the I and K are for the bloke who started it, and the E and A are for his farm and its parish. Thus meaning
(a) I was right all along
(b) I can go back to writing IKEA now
(c) I don’t have to worry about whether I should go back and correct all the instances of IKEA heretofore appearing in the blog
(d) but this entire post is somewhat pointless

Ah well. You live, you learn, you buy some nice reconditioned Danish teak mid-century modern instead.

*Yes, those are actual Ikea product names.
**No, that is not the actual name of the Ikea founder.
***There is a completely different editorial issue at stake here which I really don’t wish to get into, about whether it’s an abbreviation or an acronym. And if it is an acronym, as I think it should be since it’s pronounced as a word rather than individual letters, then I might have to return to my original stance, blame the graphic designers who are taking over the world, and start a single-handed campaign to have it spelled Ikea.

I knew I didn’t want to get into that. You wouldn’t believe how many times I changed my mind in that last paragraph.