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Outdated language in children’s stories

William Steed writes:

The ABC has given us all a heads-up on new editions of Enid Blyton stories.

The new editions will replace outdated exclamations and general vocabulary with more modern idiom. Certainly some of it is outdated – children exclaiming “Mercy me!” is unthought of in the 21st century. But what to replace them with? I don’t suppose “f*** me!” is appropriate for a children’s story. Is “OMG!” any more appropriate? Or will that seem as outdated as “Golly gosh!” within five years?

I’m young enough to remember being thoroughly amused by the outdated language in the books. I sniggered for far too long, reading in C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian that “the children came out of the forest feeling a bit knocked up.” I didn’t know for a while what on earth brothers and sisters could be doing in a forest that would get them knocked up!

New editions of The Magic Faraway Tree books have already changed the snigger-inducingly named children Dick and Fanny. Other new editions (and these newly publicised editions) replace or gloss over now politically incorrect words – the “dirty tinker” mentioned in the ABC article.

The question that the Maj Kirkland brings up on ABC is how far we can take “modernisation”. “What if we did it to Shakespeare?” she asks. Well…


or maybe Jane Austen…


But she does have a bit of a point there. How often should one bring a story up to date? The moment people stop using a word? Maybe when it becomes offensive? Or if cultural standards change? New editions are great. It’s wonderful when new generations can appreciate old stories, but don’t forget to make sure the old ones are still available, and mark the new ones as updated editions. We don’t want people asking if the hot new author Enid Blyton’s available for interview.

Update: Today’s XKCD is thoroughly appropriate. I suspect it is very true.

The same people who spend their weekends at the Blogger Reenactment Festivals will whine about the anachronisms in historical movies, but no one else will care.

XKCD alt text: The same people who spend their weekends at the Blogger Reenactment Festivals will whine about the anachronisms in historical movies, but no one else will care.


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  • 1
    Holden Back
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Just amp up the undercurrent of bondage and discipline that runs through Blyton and set the Famous Five in a sex club. Time for Dame Slap to take a trip to Botty Land.

  • 2
    Posted July 26, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    That would put it in a very different paradigm, and yet not one entirely unseen from the adults that read it, much like watching the latest Disney movies.

  • 3
    Holden Back
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I forgot the zombies. They’ll sell anything.

  • 4
    William Steed
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Dick and Fanny go to the Land of the Zombie Apocalypse seems to follow the current trend. If zombies are following vampires, what’s next on the paranormal? Some suggest werewolves, which I wouldn’t mind, but fairies haven’t been around for a while, nor have unicorns, ghosts or elementals. Maybe a move away from paranormal?

  • 5
    Holden Back
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    It took me a while to work out the zombie thing. Werewolves and vampires are fairly clearly on may levels metaphors for adolescent fears about sexuality. Zombies represent what happens to you in a consumerist society: your brain is consumed if you don’t resist.

  • 6
    Posted July 29, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I’d heard about the following, but had assumed it was just urban legend: Joseph Conrad’s “Nigger of the Narcissus” reprinted as “N-word of the Narcissus” with every occurrence of “nigger” changed to “N-word”

    But it looks like it’s fer real: http://www.wordbridge.net/reprint/narcissus.htm

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