26 April 2007

To make a short story really long...

What I want is your help to translate a (very!) Norwegian expression. It literally translates as "good day man, axe handle" -- but as this isn't particularly explanatory (I'd imagine!) I'll have to provide you with the entire folk tale where this comes from. Sorry guys...

“Good day to you!” – “Axe handle”
Once upon a time there lived a ferryman who was so deaf he could neither hear nor gather what anyone said to him. He had a wife, two boys and a small girl, and they took no heed of him, but lived happily as long as there was something to live on, and after that they bought on tick from the innkeeper and every day was a party.
When noone would vouch for them in the end, the bailiff was coming to pledge for as much as they had borrowed and wasted; so the wife and children went to stay with her relatives, and left the deaf man stay behind to meet the bailiff.
The man went about his business, and he wondered what the bailiff would be asking him, and what answers he should give.
“I will start making something”, he said to himself, “then he will ask me about that. I will start whittling an axe handle.
He will ask me what I’m making; and I will say:
“Axe handle”
Then he’ll ask me how long it will be; and I will say:
“Up to this twig”
Then he’ll ask me where the ferry lies; and I will say:
“I was going to tar her; she’s lying on the beach with cracks in both ends”
Then he’ll ask: “Where’s your grey mare?” and I’ll say “she’s carrying, due any minute”
Then he’ll ask: ”Where’s your cattle, and your summer cowshed?” And then I’ll say:
“It’s not far at all; when you go up that hill, you’ll be there in no time”
And he thought this was a cunning plan.
Verily, after a short while the bailiff showed up. But the ferryman had been to see the innkeeper, and had a few drinks, before his arrival. “Good day to you!” the bailiff said.
”Axe handle” the ferryman answered.
”Is that so” the bailiff said. “How far away is the inn?” he asked.
“Up to this twig”
The bailiff shook his head and stared at him.
“Where’s your wife, man?”
“I was going to tar her; she’s lying on the beach with cracks in both ends”
And where’s your daughter?
“she’s carrying, due any minute” the man answered; truly content with his answers.
“Oh, go to --, you’re such an ass!” the bailiff said.
“It’s not far at all; when you go up that hill, you’ll be there in no time”, the ferryman said…


So -- the expression is used if someone's answers are worse than a shot in the dark... If I ask you what the capital of Ireland is and you answer "11", or I ask you what you think of blogging and you answer "very well, thank you"... Is there an English idiom covering this? (One dictionary has "at cross purposes" but that's not the same - this is really without purposes...)

5 comments:

Devil Mood said...

LOL Does everybody know that story in Norway? It's really funny and very elaborate, that's why I was asking.
I don't know about english but in portuguese we say: "misturar alhos com bugalhos" meaning mixing one subject with another that has nothing to do with it.
I'm sure there must be an english expression for that...

Claire said...

Hmm. It's a series of non sequiturs. If there is an idiom other than speaking at cross purposes, I'm blanking on what it is.

Moncrief Speaks said...

"cross purposes" isn't quite right, you're correct about that.

I don't know that we have an actual, longstanding idiom for this! "used a non sequitur" or "answered randomly" (the word "random" has been used more in recent years than it used to be, I think, to cover these kinds of miscommunications) would cover it, but they aren't exactly idiomatic.

Rarity said...

yup, everyone knows it
(at least all adults... never know what kids learn these days - do they learn anything at all - it wasn't like this when WE were kids let me tell you ... etc)

But not everyone can tell it in such great detail as Scholiast can of course... ;o)

Mark said...

I agree these would be called non sequiturs. In conversation, after hearing these answers, a lot of people in the U.S. would probably say "Thanks for nothing!" which I gather might be roughly equivalent to your "Good day, man, axe handle."

Love your posts, Scholiast!