I just got back from vacation (a beautiful tour of the Amalfi Coast) and I did the traditional vacation thing of reading a mystery novel, End in Tears, by the splendid (and English) Ruth Rendell. Three passages struck me as relevant to this blog. The first related to a recent entry on trousers. A character meets an old-fashioned woman and reflects on her garb: “The only name for her trousers, Hannah thought, was one her own mother used, ‘slacks.'” No mention of pants.
The second reminded me that I have been meaning to do an on-the-radar entry on flat, the dwelling unit that Americans have traditionally called apartment. In Rendell’s world, things are moving in the opposite direction, with the American term apparently a sign of pretension. A character refers to “these flats or ‘apartments,’ as the prospectus calls them.”
The final quote relates to the issue of the extent to which Britishisms are Americanized in American editions of books. Here’s a description of a bad guy:
He was sitting in front of the television on a sagging sofa eating a burger with a fried egg on top, a large portion of fries, and a thick slice of fried bread, the lot doused in tomato ketchup.
Surely Rendell wrote chips rather than fries? If so, on the very next page, the translator nodded, leaving unchanged a reference to “the coagulated egg, burger and chips on Prinsip’s plate.”
7 thoughts on “Rendell Roundup”
Your emailed version has a wonderful typo (see below) — the coagulated “eff”. Which reminded me of a another Britishish — “effing”.
Surely Rendell wrote chips rather than fries? If so, on the very next page, the translator nodded, leaving unchanged a reference to “the coagulated eff, burger and chips on Prinsip’s plate.”
I changed the jetlag-induced typo thirty seconds after posting, but obviously that wasn’t fast enough to escape your sharp eye, John. Your mention of “effing” intrigued me, since I always thought of it as an Americanism. It seems I am wrong and I will post more soon.
Oxford dictionareies on line has it (eff) as British — see below. I don’t have access to OED anymore so couldn’t check it.
used as a euphemism for ‘f***’. Phrases
eff and blind
informal use expletives; swear:
I scrabbled for my clothes, effing and blinding
[blind from its use in expletives such as blind me (see blimey)]
adjective & adverb
“Flat”: I recall seeing a Jimmy Cagney movie from the 1930s/40s where his character uses the word flat for apartment. There have been several times I’ve heard what I thought were Britishisms in American movies from the War period (although I can’t recall any specific others at the moment); so much that it struck me that some current American usages are only of recent creation.
It seems quite plausible that Rendell could have written “fries” instead of chips, given that McDonalds in the UK sell “fries” with hamburgers, and not “chips”. But of course, fries and chips are synonyms in the UK, so it would seem reasonable that she used “chips” as well.
Surely the word “flat” has been used for apartment in the US for a while. Just listen to the words of the Song “Manhattan”! See http://www.lorenzhart.org/manhattansng.htm
Although fries does sound American to British ears, it is reasonably common. I would normally take it to mean the extremely thin chips that are served in Mc D or KFC, in contrast to the much thicker chips you would expect at a chip shop or in most British restaurants. Perhaps this is what Ms Rendell meant? Although the reference to fried bread suggests this meal was not from a US fast food chain.