IVP - Strangely Dim - Ticked Off

October 22, 2004

Ticked Off

By David A. Zimmerman

Part of my church's ministry to the community these days is a program called Alpha. If it were a macro in Microsoft Word, it would look a little something like this:

For n = 1 to 15
1. Enjoy a meal together.
2. Sing together.
3. Watch a forty-five-minute video together.
4. Talk together.

As weird as that may seem to you, it's pretty standard stuff. Ask any programmer. The really weird thing about the program is that the speaker on the video is British. Now, I don't hold it against anyone for being British, but they shore do talk funny. It's cute, in a way, like watching public television on Sunday nights.

My line of work puts me in contact with lots of British books. For roughly the same amount of time that I've been going through Alpha, I've been busy translating two British books from English to English. As weird as that may seem to you, it's pretty standard stuff. British grammar, for example, calls for single quotation marks around quoted material: 'Four score and seven years ago'. It also calls for terminating punctuation (that's "periods" for all you laypeople) to be placed outside quotation marks, as you can see in the same quoted material above. To translate the phrase from English into English, then, I would render it thus: "Eighty-seven years ago."

Subtle, I know. It can take some time, but in general most English-to-English translation is relatively straightforward. Where it gets dicey is in the arena of idiom.

British people call the subway the 'tube'. They call the bathroom the 'wc'. They call a line a 'queue' or something like that. They say things like 'quite right' and 'tally ho' and 'jolly well good'. None of these has a direct equivalent in English. It's my job to decipher their meanings and make them meaningful to American readers.

I find myself applying this skill to my experience at Alpha. The most notorious example thus far comes when the speaker starts talking about lists. Several things on his lists have invariably been 'ticked off', which seems on the surface to be unlikely--unless, I suppose, his list included the job of 'ticking off my American audience', for example.

For Americans, intentionally ticking something or someone off is offensive, a willful act of malice. For a British speaker to go around ticking things off so cavalierly should lead us to count his message as not worth hearing.

But wait a minute: the context of his comment tells me that 'ticking off' may require translation from English to English. I sleuthed it out a bit and concluded that 'ticking off' is English for "checking off," as in "I'm so excited to be checking this week's Strangely Dim off my list--even though it is a bit hard to understand and for the most part meaningless."

So there's hope for us yet, we Americans and our British neighbors. As long as they don't tick us off, everything will be jolly well good.


Hello out there! E-mail me at dzimmerman@ivpress.com or post a comment here.

The covers for my book are now printed, just waiting to be glued in place. It's now only a matter of time . . .

Read more about me (because I know you're dying to) by clicking here.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at October 22, 2004 9:08 AM Bookmark and Share


Great to have comments turned back on! :-)

Hilarious post! Made me wonder: Are there technical-publisher-words for British English and Real English?

Comment by: Macon at October 25, 2004 9:26 AM

Hey, Macon. Thanks for posting a comment. I don't know of any technical terms for the process of converting English texts for different English-speaking audiences. We tend to talk in terms of "Americanizing" (which is lame) and "Anglicizing" (which sounds like we're changing every "you" to "thee" or "thou"). The two terms that are relevant are "Briticism" and "Americanism," both found in the American Heritage Dictionary. I prefer to embrace the absurdity of it: it's all English to me, you might say.

Great to hear from you, Macon. keep in touch.

Comment by: dave at October 25, 2004 9:39 AM

Comments are closed for this entry.

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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