Friday, May 27, 2005


Today's worst mixed metaphor (as of 3:38 PM), plus cursing

First, let me make one thing clear: I'm not a puritan about these matters. I'm all for the promiscuous mingling of metaphoric parts. But when you cram too many into a small space, the result is unintentional levity. My specimen for today comes from Michiko Kakutani's review of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory of It All (via Bookslut):
It's a sprawling kitchen sink of a memoir, stuffed to the gills with seemingly everything the author can remember about his youth and in dire need of some industrial-strength editing, but at the same time, an epic performance: by turns heartfelt, absurd, self-indulgent, self-abasing, silly and genuinely moving.
I'm not taking her to task for the shopworn figures of speech--kitchen sink, stuffed to the gills, industrial-strength--having used them all myself, many times. But by crowding them together, she forces the reader to ask: can a kitchen sink have gills? A distracting question. As for the Wilsey, the excerpt in the New Yorker made me want to run in the opposite direction--I felt like I was being hosed down with charm and whimsy--but I suppose I should give it another chance.

Over at the Literary Saloon I found this link to an excellent article about how to translate cursing. The translators had chosen to scale one of the great Alps of potty-mouthed lit: Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. In the short passage under consideration, the linguistic leitmotifs are cunt (31 times!) and fuck (42 times!!). And to make matters even trickier, the target language happens to be joual, a vernacular French dialect used in Montreal. The solutions are ingenious: Wajdi Mouawad and Martin Bowman drew on the dialect's rich assortment of blaspheming religous epithets. For cunt they use câlisse, meaning "chalice," and they also throw in a bunch of tabarnak ("tabernacle") and Hostie ("Host"), which is presumably enough to make a joual-speaking matron blush to a deep beet-red. Having faced some of these knotty problems myself--how to render Oriana Fallaci's cazzo d'un cazzo stracazzato, a priapic formulation the author claimed to have made up herself?--I tip my hat to Mouawad and Bowman both. They are brave men.

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