I unpacked French baby dolls at work yesterday. They announced that they wore baby clothes size 14, which does not exist, and that they were washable at 40 degrees, which was mystifying. After all, we are not going to throw these dollies in the washer. Are they suggesting that we can hand-wash them as long as the water remains at 40 degrees centigrade? Do French faucets have thermometers, or is this a meaningful number for those on the metric system? That is, everyone in the world except us.
But French labels are not the most fun. For one thing, I can read them in French, so even funny translations are not that funny. I may notice that “Mademoiselle Rose” is not quite the same in its effect as “Miss Pink,” but it isn’t really amusing. Chinese labels are much more entertaining. When I unpacked the Chinese toys last week, I learned the following “Installation Method”: “Attached to your belt, beltness slacks, skirt or training suit bottom using the clip.” A game said to follow the directions “with utmost care” and without departing from those instructions “in the slightest degree.” Both of these phrases are, of course, perfectly proper English, but seem a little dramatic for a game.
When I taught English, I had a student who had an English phrase book. It stressed the importance of using idioms with care, and then offered such common American idioms as “Are they adam and eving it?” and “Hang it all, she is a hang dog!”
I like these unusual approaches to English. They are like found poetry. “Upon upfloating, stir” is a charming phrase. And often they are sufficiently divorced from whatever it was that the writer had in mind that we can only guess at the possible meaning. Here is a website that collects this intriguing form of English: http://engrish.com/
Speaking of poetry, here it is Book Club day and I am not finished with Possession. I read it at the gym yesterday, on the treadmill, and last night as I started the ribbing on the second DNA scarf, but I am only at the crisis of the plot, and truly have no idea how the thing is going to end. Having listened to several of my sons’ teachers telling me that the boys weren’t doing their homework as consistently as they might (it was parent-teacher conference day), I am feeling a bit cross with myself for failing to begin this book soon enough.