Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Harry Potter and Hilarity

Disclaimer:  This is supposed to be amusing not a whose English is better than whose.

I love British Lit.  But the thing that I seem to struggle with is the language differences.  It's not the grammar like- Go to hospital versus Go to the hospital- or punctuation differences- or even the differences in spelling- color versus colour.  That I get.  No it's using the same words to mean different things.

Harry Potter got hard to read or more puzzling.  There's a scene where Jenny is asking where her "jumper" is and her mother says it's on the cat.  Now this is what Americans picture when they think of jumper.

Yeah, I couldn't for the life of me figure out how the cat got into that or couldn't get back out of.  But I realized that the British call that a pinafore.  And what we call a sweater is a jumper.

And trainers.  When you say, you're putting on your trainers, I'm imagining an adult putting on children's training underwear.
I don't imagine these because Americans call them sneakers or tennis shoes (don't ask me why).
But if you're British, you have your own amusing moments when you read American Lit.  I can envision that when a scene says a man is pulling up his pants that you think of this:
When what we really mean are these:
I know that when Harry Potter first came out in the US, the publishers purposely changed the sweets' names... er um candies (Americans rarely call them sweets) because those are also confusing.  It is a children's book after all.  We don't have lollies.  We have suckers (same thing).  And there's a number of incompatible candies.  But as it grew in popularity and further American editions were published they decided to stick with the British colloquial terms.

So I imagine I wasn't the only American thinking of a jumper....er um...pinafore...instead of a sweater going on the cat.


  1. Another one that always confused me was "biscuits" with tea. I kept imagining little rounds of bread, and thought it was odd that kids seemed to like them so much (or that they were kept in tins). Then I found out that "biscuits" = "cookies."

  2. Gosh, you'd never think the problem of translating it into *the same language*! I blame Noah Webster.

    I think your biscuits are what we call scones, but we have them sweet, with jam (and sometimes clotted cream) as a stand-alone dish, rather than with anything savoury (as a rule, though there are cheese scones, which would be consumed with butter and chutney).

    A sucker is a dumb, gullible person here.

    And the 'pants' thing NEVER fails to make me laugh.

    How on earth did a jumper get to be a pinafore?!?!?!

  3. haha- I was rasied on PBS only- so I love everything British- but it would drive me CRAZY when I taught English in Europe and people would say how superior British English is

  4. Oh that's not the worst one. Not by far. I have the British editions of those books. In the 5th one they changed it to where one of the characters (I forget who now) tells another to keep his spirits up (over the OWLS). The British one he tells him to keep his pecker up. Yes immature laughing ensued.


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