What with the American credit rating downgrade, the stock market plummeting and riots all over London, I’m grateful to have an American edit at all. I mean, who’s got time to think about publishing books when our time would be better spent digging Anderson shelters in the back garden and stocking them with canned goods?
Yet life manages to go on.
The weird thing about being published in America is that the team (author, editor, copy editor) has to decide how much of the book needs to be translated into…English. My reference to a Zodiac boat, for instance, carried a note from the copyeditor worried that ‘American readers won’t know what this is.’ Thanks to the miracle of context, however, I’m guessing we’ll get by. “You have a boat?” says one character. “Yes! A little Zodiac,” says the next.
What about lift/elevator? Biscuit/cookie? Petrol/gas? I’m guessing those are all relatively straightforward for the Harry Potter generation. And does tea and cookies sound right to anyone on either shore?
What about words like “poxy”? It’s such a perfect word to describe something deserving of contempt. “Lousy” doesn’t quite do it. And does it matter that a character who once “jacked in” his job now “clears his desk”? In my head, it has become polite, and I miss the slight edge of the original. But will anyone else care?
I left “gobsmackingly weird” in, though my copyeditor wanted it replaced with “jaw-droppingly weird.” An executive decision there, that “gobsmackingly weird” is onomatopoeic enough to carry the Americans along. And aren’t twisty new uses of language half the fun of reading?
But “gentleman’s relish” became “anchovy paste” and “tit over arse” came out altogether. (Backwards or upside down, btw.)
A week or two ago, my German translator phoned — wanting a synonym for “squishy woo-woo.”
I sighed. Well, it’s sex, I explained. But I made up the expression. It has overtones of kiddy-talk (“woo-woo” as in “woo-woo I can see your underpants,”) and the squishy is onomatopoeic again, and how a person would translate it into German is way beyond me.
When the South Korean sale comes through, I’m just going to hide.