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You say tomato July 7, 2008

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Darlings, I’ve been working like someone without an inheritance to look forward to of late. Ghastly, of course, to have to pay one’s own way in the world when surely it is a human right to be able to do nothing and yet still go to restaurants at least four nights a week. Still, working for a living does give me something to bollock the Russian about so it’s almost worth the bother.

The queer thing is, I had to linguistically reinvent myself as an American for the latest bout of wage-slavery. I’ve done this before, of course. Every now and again, an employer will add, as one final extra nudge towards irredeemable alcoholism, “Oh, by the way, the client would like the text in American English.” Piece of piss. Even employers whom I’ve regrettably built up a bit of a relationship with – the most boring drink I’ve ever had. Worrying about grammar and not getting too drunk throughout – have daringly admitted it’s just a case of changing the odd ess for a zee. The odd -re to -er. And then it’s been a life-long ambition to write the word ‘maneuver’ in some context or other. Sadly, it didn’t come up. Again.

But it all seemed much more difficult this time round. Perhaps the flippancy of the previous employer made me think it really was as easy as pie. But then their translations were always technical. Hardly as much as a sentence. So even if I did americanize wrong, it meant nothing because everyone who laid eyes on the document had committed suicide before the end of the first paragraph. Yet here it was all sentences. And grown-up-sounding ones that looked like they needed to be taken seriously. And my new-found zeal for the zee had me in trouble in no time, sticking them in where they had no rightful place. When I spelled and ‘zand’ I knew I was in trouble.

I went online for some real-American advice.

“Yo beeyatch. You online?” I wrote to a friend who’s not even that much of a bitch.

“Yo beeyatch.”


“Yes beeyatch?”

“Do Americans say, ‘annual leave’?” I asked, feeling more parochial with every zee-free tap of the keyboard, though I suppressed the emotion with restorative thoughts of the House of Windsor.

“Dumb-ass mutha-fucka. Ain’t no cock-suckin’ faggot gonna say no ‘Annual Leave’,” and I could sense him mouthing ‘annual leave’ in a fake English accent and raising a fake cup of tea to his lips with his little finger raised. He corrected me accordingly. “Hell, scrub, you needz to get yourself a real job ‘stead o’ sittin’ round all day on yo’ fat ass typin’ shit like some mutha-fucka.”

I finished sewing some frilly lace onto my curtains and got on with the job, imbued with the vigour of one who has learnt something new. He’d given me just the sort of gentle hints I needed. Any time I had another doubt, I would say the sentence out loud to myself. “Would an American say that?” I’d ask. When the case was particularly thorny, I’d say it out loud to myself in a Deputy Dawg accent, assuming, no doubt rightly, that no parochial anglicism would make it through that stern filter.

“Darlink, vot you doink? Vy you speak yoursyelf?” asked the Russian, standing scornfully in the doorway.

“Saying my translation in Deputy Dawg.”

“OK, but zen you maast hang out voshink.”

Almost happy with my final version, I pressed F5, replaced every ‘you’ with ‘y’all’ and sent off my last ever translation. My prostitute training-course starts next week.


1. Marsha Klein - July 7, 2008

Well, I’ve hung out my voshink, and emptied and re-filled my dyeesh-vasher. I’ve come on here to faff about as a further means of work avoidance (well, study avoidance, really), although at the rate I’m going, work is never going to result from this course as I’m forgetting everything as fast as I learn it. And the kids are both at home (school holidays) so I’ve done even less study than usual recently.

So what do the Americans say instead of “annual leave”?

Ha! Now I have a reason to check back here later on

2. BiB - July 7, 2008

Marshypops, no idea. I committed it to memory – was it ‘annual vacation,’ or does that sound too predictable? – and then alcoholism and bad-living committed the memory to oblivion three seconds later. Luckily, I only had to remember it for as long as it took me to type it.

It sounds rather nice the three of you being at home. Why don’t you go on a girls’-day-out, with Chippendales and the works? I won’t tell Brian. Have you stopped your office-job to be a full-time languager, then? And have the young’uns’ exams all gone well? My nieces and nephews all seem to be doing exams non-stop these days.

3. bowleserised - July 7, 2008

But if you become or whoooooooore you might have a client who asks you to perform in an American accent.

You see, there’s no escape.

4. BiB - July 7, 2008

B., I worry, on second thoughts, that I might make a very bad ho. Although I’d happily be American for my clients if it made their day (even more).

This reminds me of the obliging prostitute in The Man with Two Brains. (Sorry. Too many references to that film.) Steve Martin explains he wants to (but can’t) kill her so he can put his beloved’s brain in her head. “I don’t mind,” she says, ever-dutifully.

5. wierdo - July 7, 2008

If someone did ask you to…um…oblige….(saying “have sex” sounded too blunt) with an American accent, would it not ruin the moment if you had to ask what something was in American?

But then again I doubt that “Annual leave” often comes up in sex talk…

6. IsarSteve - July 7, 2008

So watz it like to be rich.. bitch?

Have you spent it all yet?

and have you started calling the Russian ‘honey’?

But, on a serious note.. I’m sure I remember that in my youth, Americans always called cars ‘Automobiles’.. didn’t they..? These days they all say ‘cars’, which I always thought was tewibbly english..
I’ve tried to find out and I’m always told .. no darling, we’ve always said ‘cars’….. Am I just getting too old and is my memory failing me ? Can anyone help?

7. Ben - July 7, 2008

Apparently everyone in Britain is saying hi guys now. So, take that beeyatch. If it’s any comfort, 95% of the DE->EN translations I ever did were commissioned in International English or ‘normal’ English, which is pretty much indistinguishable from British English. ‘Amerikanisch’ is a completely different language as far as the Germans are concerned.

8. BiB - July 7, 2008

Ben, when I was a young slip of a thing, it would have been the height of pretension to say the word ‘guy’. It would have been like pretending to be in an episode of CHiPs. Or Dukes of Hazzard. Or something else American on TV. And America seemed impossibly far away and otherworldly. To pretend to speak the same language as they spoke would have been as fake as sticking a von in front of your surname. I remember my sister describing someone as a nice guy once and I wanted to grab her by the throat and say, “Who do you think you are? Saying words like that! In a Mini Metro in Shepherd’s Bush!” But that’s only a time-thing, of course. Now the word couldn’t seem more normal. And I wonder if there’s a new American word which would still be too new on British shores for me to say. Can’t think of one. (Though I might slightly have to give myself a few slaps if I ever said the word ‘awesome’.) Anyway, American English has become a real-life part of my world now so has lost the TV connection. And to that I say, “Hurrah!”

Steve, the fabulous wealth hasn’t rolled in yet, but the second it does, I’m gonna… give it all to the Finanzamt. But I’m putting that thought to the back of my mind for now. … But that’s never true about cars, is it? Do you know I actually avoided the word – it did come up – and went for vehicles instead, which I thought was perhaps wank but neutral. Although Bostonians like to demonstrate their accent by saying, “Park the car in Harvard Yard,” so we must have imagined the automobile-thing all along. … Миленький (milen’kij) – darling, I suppose – is the diminutive of choice. There’s a famous Russian song with the word in it, which youtube has a karaoke version of, which is sort of the equivalent of ‘Oh Soldier, Soldier, Won’t You Marry Me?’. So maybe, unconsciously, it gives the Russian a soldierly toughness. Phwoar. I might have to go and rip his shirt off (as long as it’s got pop-buttons).

W., I’d just say, in a perfect American accent, “Honey, I never talk to my clients. It keeps the aura of mystery.” Then I’d burst into tears and say that I wish I was back translating about annual leave/vacation. Maybe I should become a financial adviser instead, the only advice being, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

9. IsarSteve - July 7, 2008

Well… enjoy it while it lasts (the money, the sex, the good life)… live for today and don’t give a toss about…. next week…?

Awesome… I hate that word too.. perhaps to get used to it, you could try it out a few times on the Russian..

Scene: You already in bed, curlers in, teeth out. filing nails..
The Russian enters, scene left, takes off trousers(engl.) pants(Am.) ……..and shuffles

BiB: Awww Hahneeee that’s just awesooome…
Russian: Schhhurup! (he lived for a while in Stockport!)

BiB: Aww Hahnee come to beddibyes…

Oh dear… I must get on with my work…

10. BiB - July 7, 2008

Steve, that is an uncannily accurate description of our bedtime ritual. Curlers in, teeth out. Fantastic. (Actually lolled.)

I am – maybe mistakenly – a great believer in living for the here and now. I am always stumped when someone asks about my plans for the future and can never muster anything better than, “Going to the supermarket tomorrow.”

11. zoeleon - July 7, 2008

GUYS, this is so totally GREAT. Y’all don’t have a clue, do you? Americans can’t say “annual leave” because we don’t have ANY!!! It’s something we left behind in the old country, dontcha know? Kiss, kiss, -K

[Now, does anyone out there appreciate the great cynicism of my having mixed Valley, Southern, and Midwestern dialects, with a touch of Hollywood-ese??]

12. Arabella - July 7, 2008

Zoeleon – how true. Heartbreakingly mean with the ‘vacation entitlement’ over here.
BiB – for some quick, home-made Americaneze place lots of verbs in large bowl and EXPEDITE. Voila. You’re welcome.

13. Marsha Klein - July 7, 2008

It is rather nice, us all being at home when the kids are getting along (which they were today, fortunately). I haven’t given up going into the office altogether, but I’m only there two days a week now.

I’m not sure a day out involving the Chippendales would be a success – I wasn’t even allowed to watch the tennis in the same room as them yesterday (my encouragement of Federer was deemed too “enthusiastic” – and a bit too sweary at times), so I had to watch in another room. Only intermittently, though. I had hoped he’d win it a sixth time. Oh well, Nadal seems like a nice young lad.

I’m trying to think if my kids English is more noticeably American than mine – it must be – but I can’t call any particular examples to mind, which must mean that my own vocab. is more American than it used to be. Incidentally, my MiL hates the word “kids”, which she regards as a vulgar Americanism. Anyway, surely anyone who’s seen “A Fish Called Wanda” knows that Russian is the only language of seduction anyway!

14. annie - July 7, 2008

What? What? Did I miss the post where you became a wealthy heir? Are you really giving up the translating?

Americanese – ha! I remember having quite a fierce argument with a very stubborn Spanish student, he insisted that Americans do not say ‘shall’, he was so annoying that I grandly announced that I had been living in Brooklyn for the past 3 months (slightly exaggerating my 6 days’ visit, during which I was so tripped out on yellow cabs and Walk/Don’t Walk signs I wouldn’t have noticed if they’d been speaking Venusian) and that Americans Definitely Did Say Shall.

15. oyebilly - July 7, 2008

I’m going to attempt to speak American for the rest of the week. Problem is any kind of accent sounds stupid with my voice.

16. BiB - July 7, 2008

Billy, I refuse to believe it. Why is your voice not accent-compatible? And do you mean you haven’t got a nice Bristolian accent? Although I don’t want to associate your voice and that of Julie Burchill in my head.

Annie, I taught English for about twenty minutes once and I remember an annoyingly pernickety Spanish student. Did your one have bad breath? Mine might not have, but I’m choosing to endow him with halitosis. Anyway, pernickety reminds me of some Comic Strip film where Dawn French is a very unwilling school teacher. She tells a pupil to stop being pernickety. “How do you spell pernickety, Miss?” asks the girl. “F-U-C-K-O-F-F,” comes the reply. And, no, unfortunately, I’ve already been down the careers’ advice office and told them to scrap my ho-training. I am currently ignoring a number of to-be-translated texts.

Marshypops, I think your new timetable sounds rather lovely. And hooray for quality family-time, even if you can’t watch the TV or the Chippendales together. My heart bled for Federer too. I couldn’t watch both because I was just adding the y’alls, which took the whole five hours of the match, and I didn’t have any channel that was showing it. Still, I like Nadal too and apparently it was the best match ever! (Russian-shmussian. English is the language of lurve. Or seduction. Actually, when the Russian’s and my acquaintance was still fresh, he explained that Russian was indeed better than English for matters of the heart because the words ‘I love you’ sound like Céline Dion is singing them.)

Arabella, fuck, I didn’t use the word ‘entitlement’ once, which I hope won’t suddenly give them the entitlement to decide I am a shit translator – though they’d be right in assuming so – who deserves no pay. But the verb-thing. Do you mean verbs which were nouns before they were upgraded? Mind you, scoff as we might at critiquing and… erm… can’t think of any other examples, actually. Has ‘denial’ become a verb yet? I think denialing, with a single l, natch, is ripe for coinage… we’ll all be saying them by Christmas. In any case, your lingo must be a good old mix by now. The only concession to internationalising my English which was commented on in the UK whenever I was last there was my saying the word ‘bug’, which the islanders don’t say, so I was told.

Zoeleon, good point. I should have understood that the reason I didn’t know the American term is that there isn’t one. Oh gosh, I would never cope if I had to be a real grown-up. And in the States less so. I probably use more self-granted vacation entitlement in a month than the average American does in a year. On the other hand, I still think the upsides of this precarious life – sleep, flexibility – outweigh the downsides – not knowing my arse from my elbow, worrying about money constantly, thinking every day I might be homeless next week, being up to me eyeballs in debt (perhaps gradually decreasing, actually, though too scared to check properly, in case it just turns out that I’ve jiggled it around a bit), evaporating social skills. See how well I make the case?

17. narrowback - July 8, 2008

It’s simply a “vacation” as in “I’m going on vacation next week”, “I still have six days of vacation time left to use before the end of the year” or, in a nod to Zoeleon, “this damn job doesn’t come with any vacation”.
The only peoplein America who use “shall” are attorneys and, even then, only in contracts.
Isar In my lifetime – and it’s a lengthy one at that – “car” has been the prevalent word….although you’ll see it used in advertising. More frequent is the use of the shortened “auto” but as a component in a specific term such as “auto pound” (holding center for confiscated vehicles) or “auto shop”.
You’ll never hear a Bostonian use the phrase “park the car in Harvard yard” because 1. (if I recall correctly) the yard is a pedestrian plaza in the center of campus, not a parking area and 2. The phrase was coined by non-bostonians to make fun of the boston dialect.
I accept that we export some of the worst aspects of our culture but, damn, can’t you focus your linguistic ridicule on more salient aspects of american-english than boyz in da hood, valley girl and deputy dawg? I’m more than ready to join my European friends in slaging my erstwhile countrymen but let’s not reinforce counter-stereotypes in the process, eh? Granted the regional dialects are dying off for the most part but what’s left still can provide tons of entertainment…get a case of beer, put a rural southeasterner, a new yorker, a texan, a Chicagoan, a new englander and a minnesotan and ask them: (a) pronounce ‘creek’, (b) pronounce ‘route’ (c) what do you call a soft drink? (d) what’s the name of a sandwich made with cold cuts and served between a sliced tubular type of bread…

18. BiB - July 8, 2008

Narrowback, I didn’t mean this as an America-bashing exercise at all, if that’s what it came across as, and I’m much more of an America-hugger than basher, especially where language is concerned. And no accent surpasses Deputy Dawg, surely? (I checked youtube for it. Even better than I remembered. As a child, it would have just sounded American, without nuance, I’m guessing.)

OK, I’m guessing ‘route’ can be pronounced ‘root’ or ‘rout’. But can’t guess how you could get more than one version out of ‘creek’.

19. narrowback - July 8, 2008

No apologies necessary BiB…once again well intentioned sarcasm is mistaken for genuine criticism…I need to practice more. I enjoy a good america-bashing as much as any european.

my recollection of deputy dawg was that the dialect was a try at a semi-illiterate southerner…prototypical dixie sheriff of the 50’s/60’s. It may be my city upbringing but if I was goning to choose a cartoon character fas an example of a great american accent/dialect, it’d be bugs bunny.

you missed “rut”

for creek there’s “crik” and slight variations thereof

20. IsarSteve - July 8, 2008

I thought Americans pronounce route ‘rowt’ or should that be Canadians?

Thanks for the tip on the word Automobiles…. so it’s usually used with other words? I just heard an American on Radio 4 say ‘Automobile Industry’. But I was sure that in 1950s/60s American TV shows, cars were always called Automobiles. Those shows were my only connection to the USA in those days, when America seemed much further away and more ‘foreign’ than it does today.

21. Ed Ward - July 8, 2008

The reason Bostonians don’t say “Park the car in Harvard Yard” is simple: you can’t.

22. BiB - July 8, 2008

Ed, I’ve had to google Harvard Yard to see if I went there when I was in Boston. But that was so many lifetimes ago that I can’t even have my memory jogged by images on Wikipedia. Sadly, I do remember getting served beer with a fake ID in the Cheers bar. I got the quote quoted at me in Wakefield, Ma. (oh god, that’s the first time I’ve ever tried to abbreviate an American state and I’m worried I’ve got the etiquette and, indeed, the abbreviation, wrong), which was probably only for the benefit of me and the other foreign guests at a dinner party. (The Australians present said, “Sairnds Stryne.”)

Steve, I’m getting sculpted hair, big cars and big skirts on the mental radar screen. The cars in the UK weren’t so good, were they? (Mind you, and I’m leaping forward a few years, there’s a Morris Minor I see around Prenzlauer Berg that I want to rub myself up against every time I walk past.) Or were they? Still, we can go to Cuba or Helsinki if we want to see good old American motors in all their glory.

Narrowback, phew. I worried this would have to become a belligerent blog where we discussed the Middle East and Liberals v. Conservatives and Left v. Right, including the thornier sub-themes, like, “Who’s better in bed, lefties or righties?” (The answer being, presumably, lefties more willing but righties more filthy.) Have just youtubed Bugs Bunny and, again, watching it with adult eyes (and listening with adult ears), of course the accents are so much more fun. There’s a nice youtube video, which I can’t link to – bear with me. It’s the only exercise in self-discipline in my life – of Creature Comfort animals discussing art. Not a bad range of American accents there, though I think they’re mostly Hochamerikanisch.

23. IsarSteve - July 8, 2008

… I’m getting sculpted hair, big cars and big skirts on the mental radar screen.

Yep, sort of Jayne Mansfield like… a bit OT I know.. but

take a look here:

24. IsarSteve - July 8, 2008

Oh dear.. I’ve gone all red.. that last clip wasn’t meant for you.. camp though it was..

But this one is:

I’m getting sculpted hair, big cars and big skirts on the mental radar screen.

Yep, sort of Jayne Mansfield like… a bit OT I know.. but

take a look here:

25. narrowback - July 8, 2008

BiB, you’re behind the times states are now abbreviated all in caps and sans punctuation. Ma. is now (and has been for some time) MA.

we call “Hochamerikanisch” CNN english…no dialect, no accent.

I concur lefties are more willing righties more filthy

Isar: “r-ow-t” is the pronounciation in most urban parts of the northeast and northern midwest (must be the border with Canada)

26. BiB - July 9, 2008

Narrowback, I didn’t think my version looked right. And I apologise for having my irony-detector switched to the off setting earlier. I’m a bit worried about my head. One author I remember reading mentioned knowing his beloved’s head was on the way downhill fast when he stopped getting puns. Need to do some brain exercises.

Steve, thank you for both links and the excellently revealing slip of the youtube. Erasure doing ABBA indeed! I’ve been avoiding work today with some Monty Python searching. But, anyway, poor old Jayne Mansfield. I didn’t know she’d met such a violent death, though I was happy to hear, the longer I watched, that she wasn’t decapitated after all. I don’t really know her at all, to be honest, and probably always thought it was Ms. Monroe whenever I did see her image.

27. narrowback - July 9, 2008

nah, I don’t think the problem was irony-detector related…it was a poor delivery on my part. guess I made the right choice when I didn’t go for stand up comic as a career.

28. Jay - July 10, 2008


Since you are a foreigner, I thought http://www.linkexpats.com (social networking website for expatriates) might be interesting for you and your readers..

You might want to add it to your links page as well.

29. BiB - July 10, 2008

OK, Jay, I’ll look into it.

Narrowback, I wonder if it’s news in the States that a stand-up comedian in Canada is being hauled up in front of one of their Human Rights Commissions for offending with his show. Eek.

30. narrowback - July 10, 2008

that specific case has not been in the news here, but a number of right wing “commentators” have made hay of the Canadian HRC prosecuting cases like this and other similar “thought crimes”…sounds like it was/is very similar to the comedian Michael Richards (Kramer on Seinfeld) case here where he responded to heckling with a racist tirade.

Now you can help me out with some info from your side of the pond. Yesterday the conservative/r.w. meida here in the US was making a big deal about Merkel’s “negative” reaction to Obama’s request to give a speech in front of Brandenburger Tor…they made it sound as if he had pissed off 2/3rds of germany (‘cept your mayor, Klaus). Was it that big of a deal? With my current workload I didn’t have a chance to check out the Berlin tabloids.

31. BiB - July 11, 2008

Narrowback, I don’t think it’s been a huge deal, but there’s been some nit-picking over whether he, as just a presidential candidate, and not an actual president, should get to speak there. And whether the Brandenburg Gate should be a venue on the American presidential campaign circuit. And, yes, whether it’s just a photo op for Wowereit. Some Spiegel articles here, here and here on the subject.

32. narrowback - July 11, 2008

thanks…I’ll check the Spiegel links. As the resident “german expert” of my social circle I was being asked about it but I’ve been so swamped at work I’ve had little time for my usual newsreading.

33. BiB - July 13, 2008

Narrowback, and you may also be interested to read what Mike says on the story and how word spread.

34. chendaberry - July 18, 2008

Love it. You describe my everyday so perfectly. Am mouthing made-up americanisms as I type. Kisses to you!

35. BiB - July 29, 2008

Chen, thank you. I hope you came up with brilliant words and a brilliant translation. I’m sure you did. And kisses back!

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