DWJ sans frontiers

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Tue Jun 7 07:29:41 EDT 2005

A while back (I've been slightly snowed under with work and corresponcence
has suffered) Verity Cinnabar suggested:

>Anyway, I nominate the American _Time of the Ghost_ for silliest
>translation. When the Ghost is riffling through drawers, she finds
>a rubber and writing sticks in the UK edition. Some US editor
>replaced "rubber" with another form of writing stick rather than
>the "eraser" one would expect from those au fait with the cultural
>differences. Did the editor really think "oh no! these girls are
>too young to have a prophylactic in the drawer"?


Never underestimate the potential silliness of the person who gets landed
with translating a DWJ book either into American or from the 1970s to the
1990s.  It will not necessarily be a senior member of the publishing
company; sometimes they seem to give it to the latest arrival to learn the
trade on, in the knowledge that DWJ is so polite and kind as a rule that
she will put up with most things.

This doesn't always work.  One girl (too young to remember the days before
mobile phones, was how DWJ put it) was given the job of changing the
pre-decimal currency in *The Ogre Downstairs* to its modern equivalents,
and somewhat overstepped her brief.  Luckily the "corrected" proofs were
sent to DWJ -- this was the occasion upon which her son seriously
contemplated getting her a rubberstamp made of the word STET! to save her
from writers' cramp.  All the jokes had been revised, and the LPs had been
turned into CDs, and so on and on and on.

Ultimately DWJ rang to speak to her editor about it, and through a slight
misunderstanding at the switchboard was put through to the girl in
question.  She explains what followed by saying, "I'd only had one cup of
coffee at that point in the morning so I wasn't at my best."  After a brief
exchange of views, DWJ put the phone down, and about an hour later her
editor rang her back, saying, "I don't know what she'd done to upset you
but [X] has used a complete box of Kleenex and I've had to send her home
for the afternoon" and DWJ said "Good!  Tell her to stay there!"  AFAIK
most of the stets were accepted, but next time DWJ was sent a proof copy by
that publisher they also sent a pad of post-it notes and begged her to use
those rather than writing *STET DAMMIT!* in huge letters all over the

And then there was "parking lot" for "allotment", which was tried on for
*Black/Aunt Maria* -- and the title itself: "nobody in America would
understand about "Black Maria" being a card game", they said.  It isn't as
if it were explained in the first paragraph of the book, right?

They also asserted that nobody in America would know what "muesli" was --
so DWJ sent them the American muesli packet she happened to have in her
house, with the name writ large on it along with "Made in the USA" or
equivalent, and she won that argument.  Or at least I think she did.  Does
anyone have an American edition called *Aunt Maria*, and could they check
that what Mig is forced to eat in the orphanage is still muesli?


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