Moan, moan, moan! Dumbing down Harry

I hate dumbing down. All it does is lower standards. I had a go at it last week on the occasion of the release of the new Harry Potter movie. Here’s what I had to say in Bill’s Underground Edition.

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I’ve found myself gazing into the youthful eyes of Daniel Radcliffe this week. You can’t help it. He’s all over the Radio Times.

It’s the occasion of the fifth Harry Potter film, and the telly are doing a thing about the costumes, called Harry Potter: The Costume Drama. That’s why Dan the Man is there.

But it reminds me of one of the worst bits of dumbing-down I’ve ever had the misfortune to know about. And I didn’t know about it till recently. That’s the first book: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Now I knew it had been changed to Sorcerer’s Stone for the Americans. And I thought that was bad enough.

I mean, do they not know that the word philosopher means more than a chap who talks epistemology, ontology and eschatology all day? More than your A C Graylings and your Platos and your Socrateses? More than ethics and logical problems?

I mean, haven’t they heard of alchemy, for goodness’ sake?

So they bugger about with the titles of British literature by dumbing it down. I came across a New York Times article from 2000 the other day entitled ‘Harry Potter – minus a certain flavour’, and the word flavour is spelled the British way. Deliberately.

And this was where I learned about more dumbing-down in the world of the young wizard of Hogworts Academy.

The writer bemoans this dumbing down – not only changing philosopher to sorcerer, but mum to mom, apparently, and crumpets to English muffins. I ask you! This is crazy!

‘Why?’ asks the article’s author, Peter H Gleick. ‘Were the editors worried that some people wouldn’t buy the book because they couldn’t understand it in its original language? Were they concerned that some children would be confused by new words for otherwise familiar objects or actions?’

Quite!

He goes on to say, ‘I like to think that our society would not collapse if our children started calling their mothers Mum instead of Mom. And I would hate to think that today’s children would be frightened away from an otherwise thrilling book by reading that the hero is wearing a jumper instead of a sweater.’

Quite!

English muffins are not crumpets. Have American kids not learned about crumpets? Don’t we in Britain read of cookies when we read American novels? Don’t we know what a sidewalk is and a parking lot. Don’t we know they go to a doctor’s office, not a doctor’s surgery? Don’t we know their babies wear diapers, not nappies?

Of course we do! We’ve read their books and seen their movies – I mean films. So why can’t the Yanks look the words up if they don’t know what they mean?

What next? Shakespeare’s Much Fuss About Zilch? Or how about The Two Guys of Verona? How about The Storekeeper of Venice? How about Charles Dickens’s Hard Times? Could change the title to Tough Shit, Dude, I guess.

No. Let’s keep our words in our literature and let the Americans learn them, as we’ve learned some of theirs (and incorporated them into our own speech). What’s wrong with that?

Sorcerer’s Stone. Blimey. Don’t get me started! 

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About Andrew John

Andrew John is a writer, editor and broadcaster with Celtica, providing, among other things, a weekly moan on a topic in the news. He spends much of his life moaning and criticising, and is crap company at parties. But just humour him. He's not a bad bloke, really.

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