I just found this picture on the Internet and have no idea who put it together, but it’s eerily close to my Heckler tilt earlier this year, which—what the hell—I’ll fully extract below, because the link may not last much longer.
Recently I was watching Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket on DVD with a friend visiting from Trinwillershagen, a village in Pomerania. Her English is very good but there’s a lot of fast talking in the movie so we turned the German subtitles on. We’d got to the part where Payback is telling Rafterman about the “thousand-yard stare”, the look Marines get when they’ve been in the… unpleasantness too long.
It’s a great expression, the thousand-yard stare: that gaze that cuts through the world’s fabric. But I couldn’t help noticing, and Kerstin confirmed, that the subtitle had called it the “900-metre stare”. Now I’m sure there are strict EU directives compelling the use of the metric system at all times, but come on: couldn’t they have rounded it up?
Before we make too many derisive comments about German literalness, we should look closer to home. Like at Another Paper (No, Not That One) whose weekend magazine tells the story of a contented pig farmer from Nottinghamshire, who declares that he “Wouldn’t give it up for a million quid ($2.5 million)”. Well, thanks. While over at Yet Another (Possibly Made-up) Paper, environmentalists are complaining about the latest American SUV, which “gets, like, one mile to the gallon (235 litres per 100 km)”.
What kind of nickel-and-dime ($0.21) operation are these people running? Yes, it’s often useful to have foreign measurements converted for us; we don’t always have access to the latest exchange rates and I suppose there may be folks out there who don’t know that a 5’11” woman is pretty tall unless they also hear that she’s 180 cm. But to say you wouldn’t touch something with a 3.05-metre pole: that’s a whole different league (5.56 km).
And it gets worse. When surreptitiously “adapting” a feature borrowed from an overseas source, they’ll sometimes make the conversion without even leaving in the original to give us the flavour of the idiom. Yes, give these people 2.54 cm and they’ll take 1.6 km. In for 2.5 cents, in for 450 grams, they think. And so they go the whole 8.23 metres; they leave no 6.35 kilograms unturned.
English in all its forms is a wonderful, illogical language, full of useful measurements with interesting pedigrees. Imagine the awful puns we could make from knots and fathoms, roods and firkins, scruples and troy ounces — if only space permitted.
Metric makes sense but there’s no poetry in it, and few of its units correspond to the things we need to apply them to. (One exception may be the proposed millihelen, the amount of beauty needed to launch exactly one ship.) It sounds unwieldy and it hasn’t worked its way into our idioms the way imperial has, and probably never will. Sometimes we need help in translation, but usually we get it just fine. But this obsession with conversion will only get worse, dollars to donuts ($1.42s to, I don’t know, lamingtons).
Anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth (1.1 eurocents, 0.7 pence, 1.6 yen in late trading).
Sure, it’s an obvious point, but you can see how the picture above made me feel for a moment like I might have some kind of strange double life in which I Photoshop movie posters for my own amusement in my sleep.
Anyway, the idea was to illustrate a couple of lame examples of dissing that have arisen in the last day or so. Some of you might remember the blistering verbal battles that studded 8 Mile like prize fights in a Rocky movie, the best of which was Eminem’s tour de force, which won him the day and possibly the girl, I can’t remember:
This guy ain’t a mother-fucking MC;
I know everything he’s got to say against me:
I am white, I am a fucking bum, I do live in a trailer with my mom;
my boy Future is an “Uncle Tom”;
I do got a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob,
who shoots himself in the leg with his own gun,
I did get jumped by all six of you chumps—
and Wink did fuck my girl,
but I’m still standin here screaming, “Fuck the Free World!”
And never try and judge me, dude:
you don’t know what the fuck I’ve been through.
But I know something about you:
you went to Cranbrook—that’s a private school!
What’s the matter, dawg: you embarrassed?
This guy’s a gangster?
His real name’s Clarence!
And Clarence lives at home with both parents,
And Clarence’s parents have a real good marriage.
This guy don’t wanna battle; he’s shook,
cuz he knows there ain’t no such thing as half-way crooks!
He’s scared to death;
he’s scared to look in his fucking yearbook—
Now, I don’t know what half of this means, but I tell you, you didn’t want to be Clarence when this was going down. So it was a shame to hear about Eminem’s most recent offering, Lose It, which seems far from his best work, even though its video has upset Michael Jackson:
In it, Eminem appears, dressed as Jackson, on a bed surrounded by young boys and singing: “Come here, little kiddie, on my lap. Guess who’s back with a brand new rap?”
“And I don’t mean rap as in a new case of child molestation,” Eminem adds.
See? It’s just not as good. And I felt a similar disappointment reading about the Bush v Kerry battle, which is obviously the last climactic one and should show the best they can do:
“There’s a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank,” President George Bush said in the final debate of a close and contentious campaign for the White House. “Your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts.”
That’s a dis? These people just aren’t trying. More debate (perhaps) when I’ve read the whole transcript.