24 May 2005

More Engrish

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:14 am

razor.jpgMany, many thanks to Jim and Lyndal for taking time out of their Kyushu honeymoon to pick up this brilliantly-packaged disposable hotel razor for me. It is one of the finest examples of Engrish I have personally seen. Something about the mass-produced banality of this hotel junk and the unexpected poetry that tries to enliven it. It even kind of scans:

You know what you want and what to expect.
To run, at one time, like a horse in the prairie.

Well, sure, I want that—who wouldn’t?—but I don’t know if I should expect it. That’s just asking for disappointment.

Of course the tantalising question is: who comes up with this stuff? One thing I love about Google’s plan to digitise basically everything (apart from the fact that it’s put the wind up the Europeans to do some digitising of their own) is that all kinds of sources will be laid bare, and all kinds of genius properly attributed. In the meantime, the Internet only offers up other attestations of the inimitable razor, without any clue as to its inspiration. Alas.

But I did pick up a terrific T-shirt boldly emblazoned “SOURCE of SOURCE” and mysteriously subtitled with the following message:

Those who relocated from downtown included recent immigrants from Great Britain and Germany.

Obviously too good to pass up. But this time the Source of Source actually has a source: it turns up in this history of Harlem, and also in this Guide to the Boys’ Choir of Harlem (big PDF, don’t bother), both of which include the following paragraph:

Beginning in the 1870s Harlem was the site of a massive wave of speculative development which resulted in the construction of numerous new single-family rowhouses, tenements, and luxury apartment houses. Commercial concerns and religious, educational and cultural institutions, such as the distinguished Harlem Opera House on the West 125th Street, were established in Harlem to serve the expanding population. The western half of Harlem became a fashionable and prosperous neighbourhood. Luxury elevator apartment buildings with the most modern amenities were constructed, as well as more modest types of multi-family housing. Those who relocated from downtown included recent immigrants from Great Britain and Germany.

I think that whoever made my T-shirt picked the best sentence, although the penultimate one would have been good too. Neither possible source of Source of Source is terribly accurate with its sources, but both mention Gilbert Osofsky, whose Harlem, the Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890-1930 (New York: Harper & Row, c. 1965) seems to me to be the front-runner. But we may have to wait until Google gets to the New York Public Library to know for sure.

Anyone who can find a likely source for “THE ALWAYS CALM PLAYER MADE HISTORIC RECORD IN THE GAME OF AMERICAN FOOTBALL” please let me know.

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