Crikey, I've Been Anglicised!

I spent yesterday going over proposed copy edits to Anglicise How to Teach Physics to Your Dog for the forthcoming UK edition, which adds "Quantum" to the title, and will have all new cover art, etc. This means that clergy in the book are now permitted to marry, all book property belonging to the Catholic Church has been seized by the Crown, and an "s" has been added to "math" every time it appears (weirdly, it doesn't seem to actually pluralize the word, leading to the jarring construction "maths is" in several places). My favorite parts of the changes:

  • The evil squirrel in Chapter 10 gets my attention by saying "Pssst! Human dude!" in the American version. The Anglicisation of this was "Oi! Human!" which I absolutely love.
  • At one point later in that conversaion, I say "Wow," which was changed to "Crikey." I have a bit of a tough time imagining myself saying that...
  • The longest stretch of text in which the word "bunny" does not appear is about 25 manuscript pages. I know this, because every instance of "bunny" was changed to "rabbit," which is the one change I'm going to strongly argue against-- while I know it sounds a little childish and silly, that was a deliberate choice for the dog voice. It's supposed to sound a little childish, to emphasize her naive charm.

All in all, the changes were pretty minor, but it's interesting to see the differences. In general, things became a little more formal, at least to American ears ("Yeah" became "Yes," etc.), and a few idioms needed to be changed ("Thanks, buddy, you're a prince" from the evil squirrel was changed for obvious reasons...).

So, anyway, if you're of a UKadian persuasion, and have been holding off buying the book in hopes of getting it translated, there's an edition coming to a bookshop near you in October-ish. It'll have a spiffy new cover design and all (though I'm not able to show it to you yet), so even if you have a copy of the current edition, you should buy a second, to have the full collection. And that way, you can compare the language in the two to see which you prefer...

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Stick to your guns about the 'bunny' change - (a) we in the UK know what it means and (b) it does sound better.

the forthcoming UK edition, which adds "Quantum" to the title

How to Teach Physics to your Quantum Dog?


As a UKadian, I think that the only one of those changes that is really necessary is "math" to "maths". "Oi! Human!" is pretty funny though.

I think most people would probably have trouble imagining you saying "Crikey". I've never heard an English person say it except when they were joking.

Wait...a UK version?? WTF? When I read books written by UK authors, I don't think I've ever had any difficulty understanding the language. I mean, sure, they spell words like color, honor, and labor differently, and they use a few unfamiliar expressions and all, but come on. It's not that hard to figure out what the author means (although I still have no idea what a fortnight is...)

I can understand the need for, e.g., a Spanish or German or French translation. But UK? WTF?

Ah, wait, does this mean "math" is American and "maths" is British English? I've been confused about that at some point. (Adding an s, deleting it, adding it again.) How does one pronounce maths without spitting?


Don't let them change how your DOG talks!!

That would be like making Harry Potter talk 'Merican in the US editions!!!

Oh yeah, they did that already, didn't they.

"Oi! Human!"

Wait, so is the title now "How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dwarf"?

Here's another English vote for sticking with "bunny". (And for sticking with "Wow" for that matter.)

The math/maths thing is certainly something I find mildly annoying when reading USian texts, though one gets used to it and of course there's no actual barrier to comprehension.

@4: a fortnight is two weeks. (and also the base unit of time in the furlong/firkin/fortnight system of measurement)

By Andrew G. (not verified) on 19 May 2010 #permalink

I can understand the need for, e.g., a Spanish or German or French translation. But UK? WTF?

I think they think that re-packaging the book somewhat can make it sell better, and make them some money. I was a little surprised myself, but I'm happy to help them make the attempt.

I think most people would probably have trouble imagining you saying "Crikey". I've never heard an English person say it except when they were joking.

The "Wow" it's replacing is meant to be sarcastic, so that kind of fits. I'm waffling about that one, though.

"maths" is short for "mathematics", and in American (I'm not sure about British) you would say "mathematics is". Compare "physics", "economics", etc.

I'm absolute 100% pure Brit and I find the idea of a 'translation' ridiculous! I'm for keeping bunny particularly as it's actually British! You should definitely object to 'crikey' it went out some time before WWII!

The funny thing is, most of the translations aren't things I (as a Scot/Brit) wouldn't really notice. Bunny? Of course, we use that too. Crikey? It's probably used less than wow in the UK, it's a bit old fashioned these days. Colour...that's what bugs me....that and critisize or however you colonials spell it ;)

Spare a thought for Marcus Chown who's marvellous "We Need To Talk About Kelvin" has been retitled "The Matchbox That Ate A 40T Truck" for the US market. Personally I preferred the alternative suggestion "Six Degrees of Kelvin's Bacon".

Why they have to do this with pop-sci books baffles me...I can tell when I'm reading US/UK English and neither really bothers makes sense with textbooks and the different units used, but translating pop-sci like that is a tad patronising to the reader...

"Oh yes, I'd like to understand particle physics, but only in the Queen's/President's English please!" (delete as appropriate)

Weird. I thought "Crikey!" was supposed to be stereotypically Australian.

I don't think "crikey" has been used in the UK since circa 1948, so I'd avoid that change!

I've heard quite a few people use "Crikey" in the UK (nice white middle-class people). More common is 'kin 'ell.

@Michael Lugo, you are indeed correct -- in British English (including Australian) 'maths is' because 'mathematics is'. Since 'math' is a shortening of 'mathematics', if you leave off the 's' it should more technically be written 'math.' (with a period), which you do not need to do if you include the final letter -- hence 'maths'.

Almost anything with Quantum in the title is Woo. So you should get great sales among the wilfully scientific illiterates.

By Keith Harwood (not verified) on 19 May 2010 #permalink

Another Brit vote to keep "wow" and "bunny", even "dude". Don't really care whether it's "math" or "maths" but as a proof-reader who spends half her working day changing the American boss' 'Z' back to 'S', I would appreciate those edits!

Did Emmy have to do another photo-shoot for the new cover?

The "Oi! Human!" quote is funny to my ears. It also might remind us UKadians of a comedy sketch show catchphrase in which one of the characters would say "Oi! (Celebrity Name)! No!", after some unlikely and usually salacious interaction with the celebrity had been suggested by the character.

I agree that translation is not necessary but if you are going to do it then I would keep that and "maths", and dump the rest if you have the power.

By The Lane Ranger (not verified) on 20 May 2010 #permalink

I've actually performed the task, as a freelance editor, of translating books from US to UK English (and vice versa), and to be honest it sounds to me as if this is a somewhat amateurish job. There's no sense in altering words like "yeah" and "wow", which are probably used as widely in the UK as they are in the US. Myself, I'd leave the "z" spellings the way they are: not only are they accepted in the UK, there are plenty who'd defend them as etymologically preferable.

"Color" and the like are certainly eyesores to the UK eye, and I 'fess I really don't see your problem with "maths is".

How to Teach Physics to your Quantum Dog? - that should be 'cat', surely.

I've been waiting for it to be published in the UK and hoping it wouldn't be translated. Still, one of of two ain't bad. Add me to the anti-Crikey team though - appallingly dated, and 'Wow!' is just fine.

I have nothing to add except to say this is one of the most interesting posts ever. Also, I'm now imagining the dog with a Cockney accent.

Best post ever.

Well, if you don't like "crikey", you could try "cripes" as being a tad more modern ... but both are derived from "Christ" as mild swear words.

Incidentally, thee use of "crikey", "cripes" etc. is not quite dead ... they crop up all over the place in Viz magazine (which for the uninitiated is a rather rude contemporary take-off of 1940s comics such as Beano and Dandy, and so the use of the language there is completely in-tune with upper/middle class twitdom).