I love the warnings on the London Underground to "Mind the Gap." Very "Feed your head:" a foreign phrase in a familiar language, possibily a coded message intended for a certain few. I like it so much that sometimes I get distracted and forget to mind the gap.
And I also love that the exits are marked "Way Out." Because whenever I see one, I find myself silently adding the word, "Dude."
Some things are easier to translate than others (as the "Batteur des Femmes" episode demonstrated). I had the distinct pleasure recently of explaining to a French friend of mine why "Boosh" is sometimes called "Dubya." Not easy, because in French "w" is pronounced "doo-bluh-vay," and that's a lot of back-story to cover in order to get to the punchline. Comedy is economy. "It is a manner a bit pejorative in which to refer to the President. Because as you know his father is also called George and in the region of south of the States United, and equally in the Texas, they have the tendency to pronounce differently: hence 'double-u' is 'double-ya.'" You should have seen the light-bulb go off over his head.
I do my part for Franco-American relations.
But I was disheartened to discover, not too long ago, in the book review section of a French magazine, that a book of Lydia Davis stories was said to have been "Translated from the American." I thought it was some kind of joke. I flipped through the pages of the magazine. There it was: Wesley Stace's book was "Translated from the English."
Among the many words I can think of to describe such an absurdity, the most polite -- and, in the end, most accurate -- of them is "misleading." Starting with the fact that there is no such language as "American." I am not sure there is even a standard American accent. (And if you had to pick one, whose would it be? Perhaps somewhere between Matt LeBlanc and Katie Couric.)
However, from the point of view of grammar, sentence structure, and syntax (expressions like "Way Out, Dude," notwitshstanding) there is no difference between the two. Unless in England they have suddenly started
putting adjectives after the noun, and the verbs at the end of
sentences. (Which, despite its permissibility in some cases, I doubt.)
There are of course plenty of differences in our respective usages. Tomato, tomato. They say "boot" and we say "trunk." And they spell "theatre" and "centre," all funky and old-school like the French do. However, like the French, our initial "h" in "herb" is silent. For some reason over there it's aspirated.*
Oh, and for some reason, the "sch" in their "schedule" isn't pronounced the same way as the "sch" in "school." (It's tough to think through, though, isn't it? Especially if you've a cough.)
But if the editors of the French book reviews are right, then Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain wrote in different languages. As did Dickens and Melville. (Actually, using the French "Translated from the American" standard, Wilde wrote in Irish.) I don't know what they'd make of Sylvia Plath. Or Madonna, for that matter.
*They say "herb," most likely because, as Eddie Izzard pointed out, "there's a f*cking 'H' in it."