Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mercy me!

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 10th August 2010)

Golly! That’s what I yelped when I read that Enid Blyton’s publishers are set to update the language of the original Famous Five series so that today’s children don’t find 1940s British slang a stumbling block. To cite a few examples, "mercy me!" will now be a dull "oh no!", "fellow" will be replaced by the dreary "old man" and "it's all very peculiar" will be "it's all very strange". If you ask me, it’s a ghastly idea, and when I recover from the shock, I plan to send a stinker to her publishers with the stern message, “You will jolly well not change a word!” Chances are that they will ignore my pleas (sadly, profits are more compelling than sentiments), and the only consolation I can hang on to is the fact that the publishers have stated, hand on heart, that they will make the changes “sensitively” and will not replace dated slang with its modern equivalent or text message language. Whew! Honestly, I think I’d throw up if I read the following:

“OMG,” Anne clutched George’s arm, “I hear this, like, rustling in the, like, undergrowth or something.”
“Hey chill,” George replied, “That’s just Timmy doing his thing. I guess, like, it’s time to get the pooper-scooper out.”
“Cool!”Anne heaved a sigh of relief and got back to checking her cellphone for text messages. Her brow creased as she pondered deeply over a cryptic message from Julian that stated, “Lmao n rotf - ttyl.”
She sent him a terse reply: WTF?

In all seriousness though, I really am very alarmed at this move. After they finish cleaning up the text, all we’ll have left is a racy story without Blyton’s unique flavouring that makes it all the more special. Sort of like unsalted popcorn. Am I the only one who believes that today’s children are being cheated instead of pampered?

Dash it all, if we allow this sort of thing to happen, PG Wodehouse’s publishers may do likewise – and imagine reading Wodehouse without all that “Pip pip and tally ho old chap” stuff. Will a staid “I feel good” make you giggle as much as “Feeling boomps-a-daisy”? And will the lovely phrases from hymns like “As pants the hart for cooling streams” (when one of the characters is yearning for a spot of alcohol) be changed to a prosaic, “I feel like a drink”? I can assure you that vultures will gnaw at my bosom if this happens!

By Toutatis, this modernisation disease could spread to Asterix comics as well – all the Latin phrases (like “alea jacta est”) will probably be deleted and clever puns may be brutally bumped off too. Who knows, Shakespeare may follow (to the delight of zillions of frustrated students) and one of Lady Macbeth’s most memorable lines may well read like this: “Out out damned stain, out I say! All the perfumes manufactured by France will not make my hands smell nicer.” Zounds!

It doesn’t end there - once people start fiddling around, everything eventually goes wrong. A few years ago, golliwogs were removed from Blyton’s Noddy series on the grounds of “racial offensiveness.” I remembering thinking that it was rather odd, considering that the golliwogs were not shown in a poor light at all – they were just as charming as Noddy himself! In fact, I loved them so much, my mum even made me one for my 7th birthday. So be warned: more silly politically correct acts are bound to follow. Here are a few of my predictions:
1. First the ham sandwiches that the Famous Five love so much will go – in case, in the new multicultural Britain, it may offend certain religious sects. They will probably be replaced with chicken sandwiches since beef is also taboo. (Please note that the bread will be whole wheat, of course.)
2. Then the chicken sandwiches may be replaced by cheese if groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals win more converts.
3. Dairy-eschewing vegans may object, and the starving Famous Five may be left with boring cucumber sandwiches. Or mustard and cress.
4. And so on and so forth.

I have one small question for Blyton’s publishers: Have you forgotten that today’s children have the Internet? Hey, if they can learn to make bombs from their mums cosmetics in 5 minutes, they can jolly well go to Google and discover that peculiar means strange!

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