Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
It’s Saturday night, almost midnight, and your protagonist has just arrested a couple of strangers who sort of sound as if they’re speaking English. Sure, every third or fourth word is recognizable, but phrases such as, “If’n you don’t let me go I’ma gonna stomp a mud hole in your ass,” well, they just don’t quite make sense. But the drawl is a dead giveaway. Yep, those folks are from the deep south, where life is just about as fine as frog hair.
Still, without an interpreter your hero’s caught twixt a rock and a hard place. But this ain’t her first hog-callin’, no sir. She’s been in this predicament before. So she reaches for her handy-dandy Officer’s Guide To Southern Expressions, and within seconds she’s a hootin’ and a hollerin’ with the best of of ‘em.
Now, you too can join in on the conversation. All you have to do is print out the handy guide (below) and keep it real handy, because you’ll want to know exactly what to do when Bubba Lee Johnson, Jr. says, “You feel froggy…jump.” Of course, the fact that Junior suddenly spat out his Redman chew—the whole wad—, snatched off his grease-stained Hank, Jr. t-shirt while puffing out his narrow chest, well, you sort of knew that he was ready to fight and his words were a dare for you to make the first move (why they always, always, always tear off the t-shirt is a mystery of the universe, along with black holes and Stonehenge).
Anyway, poke your finger at the print button, ’cause if the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’m fixin’ to help you understand Southern Speak. And to help us out, Bubba Lee is going to share some of his favorite expressions.
Take it away, Junior.
1) He’s so poor he cain’t pay attention (a person of meager means)
2) D’rectly (in a little while) “I’ll be there d’rectly.”
3) Like white on rice (extremely close to something or someone) “Bobbi Sue is so stuck on Junior she’s like white on rice.”
4) Looks like two bulldogs in a gunny sack (the motion of a female’s rear end is very appealing). “Hey, Junior, look at ‘ol Bobbi Sue over yonder. Looks like two bulldogs in a gunny sack.”
5) Fixin’ (going to) “I’m fixin’ to head down to the liquor store. You want anything?”
6) Blessed me out (fussed or cussed) “I got Bobbi Sue pregnant and dang if’n her husband didn’t bless me out.”
7) Like a cow peeing on a flat rock (a downpour) “It’s raining so hard it sounds like a cow peeing on a flat rock.”
8) Slicker than snot (extremely slippery) “That dad-gum snow made my driveway slicker’n snot.”
9) Fine as frog hair (exceptionally nice) “Why, I’m as fine as frog hair. Thanks for asking.”
10) Rode hard and put away wet (looking pretty bad) “Dang, what happened to ‘ol Junior? He looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet.”
11) Hungry enough to eat the south end of a northbound skunk (famished) “I ain’t eat in three days. I’m hungry enough to the eat the south end of a northbound skunk.”
12) Extremely quiet. “It so quiet in here it’s, well, quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton.”
13) Dancing in high cotton (successful/wealthy) “I just got my income tax check and I’m dancing in high cotton.”
14) Stove up (sore muscles) “Dang, Lulu’s old man come in the back door and I hadda run all the way home. Now I’m all stove up.”
15) Nabs (Lance snack crackers) “I’m going to the store to get me a pack of Nabs”.
16) Dry conditions/drought. “It’s so dry the catfish are carrying canteens.”
17) – Disremember (forgot)
There you have it, 17 expressions your hero is likely to encounter when arresting a southerner. So listen closely and keep this guide handy. And, bless your heart, not everything that sounds nice is a compliment.
Bless your heart – a polite way to deliver an insult. Transforms a positive comment into a negative. “Her baby is really cute, bless her heart.” In the South, this typically means the little one is basically stomp-down, butt-ugly.”
Therefore, if you’ve queried an agent who resides below “the line,” and their response to your manuscript submission was, “Your writing is wonderful, bless your heart,” well, it might be a good idea to re-think your career choice.
Let’s not forget the addition of the letter “D” in places it “dudden” belong. I “wadden” gonna mention these but they are an important part of the dialect in some southern locations. It “idden” right, but it is what it is.
Some of you, I know, “hadden” been around many hardcore southerners, so these phrases and words may be a bit furrin’ to you. And, if used anywhere else in the country they simply “wooden” work.
Suppose, for a moment, that Paul Revere had been born and raised in, say, Richmond, Va. If so, locals might have heard him cry out, “To arms, the Briddish is comin’, y’all.” Lawdy, that sounds purty silly, dudden it?
Fine-lee, I’d like to mention the ever-popular:
– Lie-berry (library)
– Cain’t (cannot)
– Don’t make me no never mind (I don’t care)
– Cut out the light (turn off the light)
– Might ought to/Might could (Should)
“Don’t make me no never mind if you go to the lie-berry. I’d go witcha but I cain’t right now. I might could go a bit later, though. Hey, don’t forget to cut out the light before you leave. And y’all be careful now, ya’ hear.”
*Before any of you “bless me out,” I lived in the south for nearly 40 years and have heard each of the above more times than I could count. Remember, many terms and expressions may vary from place to place, but I reckon you already knew that, didden you?
Finn found a pale blue T-shirt at the back of the closet that had a corny slogan only a math teacher would find funny. It had a beer can and the limit definition of the derivative on the front of it. On the back it said Never Drink and Derive.
Pretty clever, right? At least for a math pun. What do you think, how well will this translate into other languages? Not too well into German, considering that the German words for drive and derive are “fahren” and “ableiten”. There goes the pun.
I’m a translator, and I translate books from English into German. That excerpt comes straight from my desk (from Amy Harmon’s “Infinity + One”). Puns like this are part of the reason why translating is more than just looking up words in a dictionary and stringing them together. Translating a book into a foreign language requires careful adaption to make sure that the (in my case) German version creates the same effect on the reader as the English original did. Everything that could take the reader out of the story because he or she has no idea what is meant has to be localized, with the utmost respect to author and story.
In order to do my job properly, I have to become invisible. Have you ever read a book that was not originally written in the language you are reading it in and thought: “Man, that translator did a great job”? Whenever the translator is mentioned in a review, it’s usually because he or she did a poor job. So when reviewers write that the author’s style is fantastic, that the book was so much fun and very easy to read, that the puns were clever and the mystery suspenseful, I feel that I’ve done both the book and the author justice.
When I started learning English at the age of fourteen, my teacher gave me some great advice: “Always assume that the sentence made sense before you tried to translate it.” That’s a pretty good guideline for a professional translator. It’s crucial to fully understand the original book. If I know that something is supposed to be funny but I don’t get the joke, I must have missed something. The same applies to any references I don’t get. This is where translation becomes more than just looking up words, it’s about being pretty knowledgeable about foreign traditions and cultural references.
If the text talks about cream tea, it helps to know that this doesn’t refer to a tea with cream but to a traditional English meal where the tea is actually served with milk, but the scones come with clotted cream. If a character claims that she seems to have moved to Mayberry, it helps to know about the Andy Griffith Show. But what do you do if that show never aired in Germany, and your German readers will have no idea what the lady is referring to? You get creative. After spending weeks trying to come up with TV characters that would create the same image with the German reader as Barney Fife and Andy Taylor, I took a completely different approach by referring to two different tools, a sharp one and a not so sharp one. Mayberry became the toolbox. Footnote averted.
However, I try very carefully to keep the original setting very much alive in the story. If a private eye lives in Los Angeles, I will not move him to Cologne to make it easier for the German readers to relate to him and his surroundings. But if he talks a lot about taking Advil, I might change that to Ibuprofen, though, because Advil is not available in Germany and is therefore unknown to the German readers. By changing the brand name to the agent, it becomes immediately clear that we are talking about a painkiller (my pharmacist loves these consultation visits, by the way).
The German language works differently from the English language, and we even have different gestures. Putting somebody’s head between their knees will not immediately tell the reader that this person must have felt sick – it just seems like a strange thing to do. So you either explain it in a throwaway line, making sure it doesn’t take the reader out of the story, or you find a gesture that is familiar to Germans and conveys the same meaning. However, you need to make sure that you are not doing all the thinking and interpreting for the reader — show, don’t tell.
And there is the dreaded issue of “Sie” and “du”. The German language differentiates the English “you” into a formal “Sie” for people who have either just met or have a business rather than a personal relationship, and the “du” between friends and family. When translating a book you have to make a lot of decisions – how do the characters address each other to make it sound organic, and at what point do the protagonists switch from “Sie” to “du” (assuming they met for the first time during the course of the story)? I once had to re-write an entire scene after finishing the book because it only turned out in the end that the hero and the cop who arrested him at the beginning were brothers. During the arrest, they had a conversation in front of witnesses. I couldn’t use the “Sie” because family members wouldn’t address each other that formally, but didn’t want to use “du” either to keep the element of surprise until the end as the author intended. So I had to carefully craft a conversation that avoided all addressing but without sounding unnatural as not to alert the reader that something must be up with those two.
And this is exactly why I love my job. I love the challenge, and that I get to bring new stories to the German readers.
I once read that submitting for a book for translation is like sending a child to live abroad. But with your translator, there is family abroad who will take care of your child and love it as if it was their own.
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Jeannette Bauroth is a professional English-German translator with a 10-year career and a love of books—especially humorous and romantic mysteries. She enjoys working with authors and specializes in indie publications. Together with her friend Corinna Wieja she founded “Indie Translations” (www.indie-translations.com) to help indie authors bring their stories to the German readers.
Jeannette investigating a murder at the 2014 Writers’ Police Academy.