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How Are Dr. Seuss's Books Translated?

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by Aliya Whiteley

It takes a truly gifted author to write verse as magical as the works of Dr. Seuss. Born on this day in 1904 as Theodor Seuss Geisel, the beloved author wrote more than 60 books during his lifetime, which have sold more than 600 million copies. Even today, more than a quarter-century after his passing, Dr. Seuss's books continue to sell because they entertain children (and adults) so well with their wordplay.

Many readers feel like they know Dr. Seuss from his writing, but the fact is that many of us are mispronouncing his pen name, which he described as having more of a Germanic sound. Alexander Liang, one of the author's collaborators, explained it in a handy poem:

"You're wrong as the deuce, and you shouldn't rejoice. If you're calling him Seuss, he pronounces it Soice (or Zoice)."

Does it really matter? Whether it rhymes with moose or voice only becomes an issue when you’re looking for words to accompany his name in a rhyming poem, and that’s the big problem that translators face with children’s books such as the ones written by Dr. Seuss. They rhyme brilliantly in the language in which they were constructed, but finding a way to phrase them in a different language— while still preserving their original character—is no easy job.

The Cat in the Hat was first published in 1957, and is one of the best-selling children's books of all time. The title is poetic in a number of languages:

French: Le Chat Chapeauté

Italian: Il Gatto Col Cappello

Spanish: El Gato Ensombrerado

Yiddish: Di Kats der Payats

Latin: Cattus Petasatus

Although the German version is the straightforward translation Der Kater mit Hut, the 2003 film version starring Mike Myers as the Cat had a great title in Germany: Ein Kater Macht Theater.

Horton Hears A Who! has also been made into a popular film, and its message of equality for all has been entertaining children since 1954. It is available to read in French as Horton Entend Un Zou!, and in Dutch as Horton hoort een Hun!

There's A Wocket In My Pocket! is a 1974 story of a boy who has to contend with strange creatures around his house, such as a Vug under his rug and a Noothgrush on his toothbrush. Translators have made up some wonderful sounding creatures of their own to keep the rhyme intact:

Spanish: Hay un molillo en mi molsillo!

Italian: C'è un mostrino nel taschino! 

Dutch: Er zit een knak in mijn zak!

Yertle the Turtle And Other Stories was published in 1958, and is the tale of a despotic turtle King who doesn't treat his underling turtles with respect. Geisel later stated that Yertle was based on Hitler. In Spanish he's Yoruga La Tortuga.

Perhaps the most elegant translations for a Dr. Seuss book title belong to 1960's One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, a book for younger readers:

Dutch: Visje een visje twee visje visje in de zee (translates as One fish two fish fish fish in the sea)

Chinese: Yi tiao yu, liang tiao yu, hong de yu, lan de yu

Yiddish: Eyn fish tsvey fish royter fish bloyer fish 

But the language to which One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is an absolute gift in translation is French, where it becomes the perfectly rhyming:

Poisson un, poisson deux, poisson rouge, poisson bleu

If only all translating jobs were as simple as that.

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This Harry Potter Candle Melts to Reveal Your Hogwarts House—and Smells Amazing
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As it gets darker and colder outside, the thought of lighting a candle in your room and curling up with a good book becomes more appealing. A sorting hat candle from the Muggle Library Candles Etsy store makes the perfect companion to whatever Harry Potter book you happen to be re-reading for the hundredth time this season. According to the Cleveland news outlet WKYC, the candle slowly reveals your Hogwarts house as it burns.

From the outside, the item looks like a normal white candle. But when lit, the outer layer of plain wax melts away, allowing the colorful interior to poke through. The candles come in one of four concealed colors: red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, yellow for Hufflepuff, and green for Slytherin. The only way to know which house you’re destined to match with is by purchasing a candle and putting it to use. According to the label, the scent evokes “excitement, fear, and nervousness.” The smell can also be described as lemon with sandalwood, vanilla, and patchouli.

Due to its viral popularity, the Fort Worth, Texas-based Etsy store has put all orders on hold while working to get its current batch of shipments out to customers. You can follow Muggle Library Candles on Instagram for updates on the sorting candle, as well as other Harry Potter-themed candles in their repertoire, like parseltongue and free elf.

[h/t WKYC]

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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