Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

And you say you read all the time

Peter: Feet on ground, head in literary clouds

Elder Daughter (Professional Bleeder), a former NHS phlebotomist, is not to be confused with Younger Daughter (Occasional Speeder), whose blogonym is easier to decode. PB, an omnivorous reader who has clearly inherited her mother’s genes, phones in another compelling story about Kindle.

PB’s partner, Peter, didn’t read much before they met but soon succumbed to the Bonden virus. And not just easy books; he’s read Cloud Atlas which is more than I have. Once when I visited them Peter was in the bath reading and he took a long time getting out. I approve of this. People who have baths to get clean are missing the point.

In fact Peter has taken reading further than any of us - literally. He walks to his workplace reading all the way, avoiding loose paving stones and casually driven cars in his absorption. Inevitably PB bought him a Kindle for Christmas and he asked her to download titles out of copyright she thinks he “should have read” given his present age. Within days he found Brave New World “terrific”.

I’ve heard several people express their doubts about ebook readers but I’m cheered that these devices, with their modest screens, compete directly with that larger, omni-present screen which threatens to gobble us all up at times.

NEW NOVEL Provisional title: The Love Problem, 4579 words, Jan 18, 2010. Much research on aviation in USA and in France. American central character (Yana – a Rouchswalwe suggestion) has to talk to American friend in plausible US idiom without lapses into honey, figure (for think), and gee. Then there’s French conversation between Yana and French woman: is it OK to give a French twist to the English I write? More on this latter – much more.

12 comments:

Julia said...

Is it Americanese to say "I figured it out"? My dictionary calls "figure out" an informal expression, without specifying further.

Barrett Bonden said...

Julia: "Figure" has several meanings and applications, some of which point to the US others to an imaginary island halfway across the Atlantic. "I can't figure him out." is commonplace on that island in that it is used on both sides of The Pond. In this case (ie, used in conjunction with "out") the meaning is "understand".

However, in "I figure he's a communist." it's most likely to mean "think" though a case could be made for "have concluded that". To me, that's US usage and it's one reason why the US later came up with "Go figure." which means "Understand that if you can." Another US usage is "figure" as "calculate" though, if you'll permit a non-PC observation, it always sounds somewhat working-class. The problem is that many of these US-born idioms are concise and attractive, and are quickly adopted over here with the origins seemingly lost. One such immediate post-war example was "cinch" which didn't have a single-word equivalent in the UK and was absorbed very quickly.

For a Brit trying to render American dialogue there is a tendency to be lazy and merely tack on words like "Jeepers" and "Dude" which are, in any case, as over-worked here as in the US and have a bad effect on punchiness. One solution is to lay in a store of Elmore Leonard books, surely the master of spoken American.

Just to try you out, here's a question and answer from my first draft. Do the speakers sound like Americans?

“But today there’s 180 k of pain. Does it have to be Bordeaux?”

“It does for the price I’m paying. I get that first leg to Montreal for a hundred-and-ten bucks. Can’t beat that.”

Sir Hugh said...

Two bits of Americanese that often give the game away when everything else is ok are: the use of "through", e.g. Friday through Monday, and "gotten", e.g. "he had gotten rich" instead of "he had got rich". The English version here I would try to avoid anyway because I feel "got" to be an ugly word so I would say "he had become rich".

Julia said...

You've got businessman's speak down, though I'd leave out the hyphens; somehow they look too formal. Perhaps the easiest solution is to turn the price into "a hundred bucks" and be done with it.

Sir Hugh, what do you say in place of "through"? Is it 'to'? (It is useful for me to know these things as I'm every now and again writing copy for the BBC and have to watch my language carefully!).

FigMince said...

Ah, my favourite subject.

Personally, I figure that 'figure' has filled a hole. To say 'I think he's a communist' suggests either a certain uncertainty or a pre-existing belief; while 'I've decided he's a communist' is definitely definite. 'I assume he's a communist' implies that not much thought has gone into it. But 'I figure he's a communist' expresses your expressed option of one having reached a possible/probable conclusion via consideration of the facts involved. (Besides, maybe he's just a badly-groomed socialist having a bad day.)

As for Sir Hugh's 'Monday through Friday', it's always seemed to me to be a more useful and accurate way of defining that period than 'Monday to Friday'. The use of 'through' encompasses the whole of Friday, whereas 'to' could mean 'until' – and to a pedant, that would mean midnight Thursday.

And of course, the British contempt for the American use of 'gotten' as a past participle is ironic, because in this case the Americans are the purists while the British use a recent-ish corruption. Maybe they've forgot.

Re spoken American, may I suggest some of Carl Hiaasen's books? Social comment disguised as outrageously funny crime yarns.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh this is fun! The honey thing is something you don't hear much anymore. In fact, the only woman I know who uses it is a first-generation immigrant from the Near East. She can say it, but I can't imagine anybody else calling me honey. Every now and then at the store, an elderly cashier will say something like, "thanks, hon."

Avus said...

I have succumbed - a Kindle is about to be delivered for Mrs Avus' birthday present.

Barrett Bonden said...

All: What we need for this subject is a conference call. I appreciate everything that's been said but you'll have to forgive any long-winded answers: it's (sort of! kind of! - there are two US goodies) inevitable with language.

Sir Hugh: "Give the game away" gives the game away, implying that you think the US writer is trying to pass for white. Americans are entitled to write as they wish (there are more of them) and I for one enjoy the variations. The sad thing is that this spirit is not always reciprocated; stuff written in ordinary everyday English (especially regional English) has to be translated. Or that's what the marketing people say. With your "gotten" example you have to be careful. We're talking about spoken English (ie, spoken English written down; dialogue if you like)."had become" is an unlikely oral verb form where the tendency is always to use the simplest verb form possible.

Julia: "businessmen's speak down"! Wow, I didn't think I'd be adrift so early in the proceedings. I take your point about the hyphens but they are part of a general rule I follow, having observed other writers. Most avoid using numerals (and, of course, symbols like % and $) and whereas a hundred bucks would be a pragmatic solution here I'll bet my boots I'll come up with an inescapable need for an exact figure two pages further on. However, there is a point at which numerals must be accepted, probably immediately after a-hundred-and-ten

As to writing for the BBC, you obviously know your market but unless you are trying to pass for white Americanisms like this are perfectly acceptable, I would have thought. Though not travelling in the other direction.

FigMince: A barrel-load of nuances, and yes I hardly scraped the surface. I wasn't trying to suggest superiority on either side; I have set myself the task of having a reasonably educated American woman as my central character and each time she opens her mouth I have to listen, more or less literally. I have read Carl Hiassen and agree; I mentioned Elmore Leonard because many of his novels are constructed almost completely from dialogue and therefore his mastery of oral form has to be complete.

RW (zS): You have made my point. Writers who imagine they can simulate American speech by adding in a few cliché words are likely to fail. Especially when it turns out that the cliché is now more or less outmoded. You are quite right about "hon" for "honey" on the rare occasions it is used.

Avus: As I say, try plumbing the depths at Project Gutenberg. On my most recent visit I discovered they had all the Conan Doyle titles (plus much more).

Hattie said...

Whassap, dude?
I don't envy you trying to figure out the way we Americans speak. I was thinking how much fun it would be to give you all kinds of misinformation. Which we are bound to do anyway, since as my linguistics professor liked to point out, we really don't know how we speak.
I like the Hawaiian salutation, "Howzit?" But I don't suppose there are any Hawaiians in your book.

DuchessOmnium said...

FigMince is quite correct about "gotten" though it no longer trips so easily from my lips, now that I have got so confused with all the variants of English.

Typically American English preserves older forms and "gotten" is a case in point. "Got" is a relative newcomer.

Barrett Bonden said...

Hattie: Well I do start out with some advantages. For six years in the USA I was paid to edit articles written by Americans so that they appeared to be written by Brits. This always seemed a remarkable gesture on the part of the Yanks.

DO: Are Brits more concise than Americans? The evolution you mention seems to suggest it. One thing did surprise me when I was working in the USA. I accidentally turned the car radio on to what I imagine was the BBC World Service and was astonished how much faster Brits spoke. And yet clichés like "rapid-fire" traditionally apply to the US.

Avus said...

Yup! We (I, really) have now downloaded the complete works of Rudyard Kipling for 70p. Some 500 stories and various poetry (I am a few missing of his books so thought, at that price, I might as well get them all).
All of the immortal Jane (Austen) too,cost; zero.
I am beginning to like this.