The Day After Yesterday
Dear James, and all our other readers,
‘The day after yesterday’ doesn’t really exist as an English phrase. I can only remember hearing it once before, in a film called ‘Sideways’ which came out a few years ago. The protagonist of this film was a would-be writer (called Miles, if I remember rightly). At one point in the film he’s trying to impress a woman by telling her about his unpublished novel. As he describes it, it’s easy to see why it’s unpublished. Finally, she asks him what the title is.
“The Day After Yesterday,” he proudly says.
She looks nonplussed. “What,” she says, “you mean ‘today’?”
That’s American humour, not British. Maria asked about the book which made me laugh so much on the bus the other day, and where she could get a copy. The book was called ‘Lint’, by Steve Aylett. Like ‘Sideways’, it’s the story of an imaginary writer, Jeff Lint. Actually, I doubt very much whether this book has been translated into any other languages. Jokes are notoriously difficult to translate, partly because they often depend on linguistic double-meanings and partly because different cultures often have very different senses of humour – and this book is particularly bizarre and English in its sense of humour. I’ll give you a few examples of lines which made me laugh (I hope this won’t break any copyright laws; I’m sure Paul will let me know if it does).
“I was so scared of that huge spike-ball… I locked myself in the cupboard and tried to suffocate myself with the dog.”
“We’re just haunted beef, really.”
“Lint’s was a career haunted by death, including the suspicious death of his rival Herzog, and the mysterious ‘Lint is dead’ rumours, which persisted even after his death.”
Do those quotations make any sense to you? If not, don’t worry – they don’t really make all that much sense to a native speaker, but I find them all very funny (I admit that I have a particularly dark and strange sense of humour, even for an Englishman). If I haven’t put Maria from London off, she can find the book on the sci-fi shelves of most of the big bookshops in central London.
I’ve always found it very interesting how different nationalities and cultural groups have different senses of humour. I remember I once had a high-level class, and I asked them to think of a joke in their own language and translate it into English. There were students of many different nationalities in the class (including two Korean guys), and they all racked their brains for a long time – until finally one Korean guy raised his hand and said, “I’ve got a Korean joke I can tell you.”
“Okay,” I said, “tell us a Korean joke.”
The student paused for a moment then said, “it’s very cold in here, isn’t it?”
And immediately the other Korean guy burst out laughing, while I looked at the other students and we all shrugged our shoulders; none of us could see anything funny about the words, “it’s very cold in here isn’t it?” – except the two Koreans, who were weeping with laughter.
That’s all from me for today. If anyone can translate a joke from their own language into English, I’d very much like to hear it.
Lots of lovely vocabulary today!
The protagonist of a story is the main or central character, sometimes called the ‘hero’.
A would-be writer is someone who is trying to be a writer, but hasn’t had much success.
The adjective nonplussed means confused, and suggests that you’re so confused that you’re speechless.
If something is imaginary, then it’s not real, it doesn’t exist – someone imagined it. For example, the unicorn is an imaginary animal. Be careful not to confuse this word with the word ‘imaginative’, which is used to describe someone who has a strong imagination.
‘Notoriously’ means ‘famously’, but in a negative sense.
‘Copyright’ is a noun in this example. It means the legal right to reproduce a picture, a piece of music, or something like that.
To suffocate someone is to prevent them from breathing, so they die.
We most often use the word haunted to describe a house. It means that ghosts live there.
To persist in this context means to continue.
‘Sci-fi’ is a very common abbreviation for science fiction.
If you racked your brains, you think very hard about something.
Finally, to shrug your shoulders is to raise your shoulders and lower them again. In Britain and in many other cultures, this means, ‘I don’t know,’ or, ‘I don’t care.’
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