Friday, June 01, 2007

American English

The American version of my book. Not quite the same as the British one.

On Being Translated Into American

Last month my memoir about my lovelife - Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You - was published in the USA for the first time. Coincidentally, it was also republished in the UK, in mass market paperback.

So it's a good moment - for me at least - to consider the sometimes difficult and sometimes bizarre process that is translation into American English.

That's right - translation. You might think the British and the Americans share a common language, and of course we do. But there are crucial and unexpected differences that can make the journey across the linguistic pond slightly unsettling for a British author.

I was particularly worried about my book: because it is slangy and rude. For me this is essential to the appeal of the text - keeping it light hearted and funny, even if it deals with some tricky issues. But would the Americans appreciate my bawdy British prose? The first signs were not good. Indeed my heart sank when I got a phone call from my American editor and she referred to "a problem" with page 155.

This page comes from a chapter about my addiction to internet porn. On this page is one of my favourite lines in the book, where I admit that my addiction got so bad I actually "wanked myself into hospital".

I knew what was coming. They were going to ditch the word "wank" and put some unsuitable Americanism. "Jerk" or "self-stimulate" maybe.

But no. "Wank", it seemed, was fine! It was the lack of the word "the" before hospital which was causing concern in New York. Apparently Americans like a definite article before the word "hospital". This amendment was not as bad as I feared - nonetheless I stood my ground. "Wanked myself into hospital" made it through.

I was less lucky with the cleaning lady incident. In my memoir I describe how I exposed myself, as a lad, to the lady who does. I then say how she went off and "did some determined hoovering". The Americans don't use the word "hoovering". Instead they apparently use the word "sucking". So now the US version of the book reads that I exposed myself to the cleaning lady, and then she went off and "did some determined sucking", which isn't what I meant at all.

This may seem like small beer to the reader. But it matters to me. And it maybe matters to the way the book is read in different countries. At its best the British edition of Millions of Women reached number 6 on the amazon charts. In America it has peaked at 15,602.

1 comment:

Marina said...

The first comment, I can understand. It's simply a grammatical difference that Americans prefer. But the second change is completely ridiculous. "sucking" implies fellatio, not vacuuming. Unless that is what you meant. But even so, that sounds a bit silly.
I really want to read your book. Send a copy? :D