More Hobbitspeak

Last night was hectic, with far too many things going on at once. Samwise, in the middle of all the running about, took a, um, #2 in his little plastic kid potty.

We started this whole potty training thing pretty recently, and it’s been surprisingly successful when it comes to the #1 end of things. Alas, #2 has been far more iffy. So when I passed through the living room and he said “Poop, potty” and I looked and — lo! — there it was … well, the wee hobbit got a high-five for sure.

After the potty was emptied and cleaned, I went in search of a VHS tape we happened to be looking for, which I thought might be in the living room. Access to this room is accomplished via two possible routes: the small entry foyer and, far more often, a short landing of stairs off the kitchen. I took the latter on my way back from the bathroom, stepping confidently into the living room with the puffed up bearing of a Father whose Son has done well. The Hobbit was already there before me, standing over next to his potty, looking pretty pleased with himself.

“Good job, buddy,” I told him again. (Who says I can’t give positive reinforcement, eh?)

“Poop, potty, uh, floor,” he replied.

I smiled, translating in my mind. “That’s right,” I said. “Samuel should poop in the potty, not on the floor.”

The Hobbit smiled back. Serene. Proud. “Poop, uh, potty, uh, floor,” he said, pointing to the stairs.

“That’s right. Definitely not on the floor,” I said.

I often talk to my students about the dangers of translation. Since I teach medieval literature, the subject comes up quite a bit. Among the many problems inherent in any translation is the question of whether the translator translated what the text really says, or what he or she wants it to say. The same thing happens in reading, of course, especially when it comes to students trying to read their own works — they read what they want to say, not what they actually say.

All of which I mention as prelude to the fact that I, too, am guilty of mistranslation from time to time. The Hobbit was not telling me about how he was proud to have pooped, as is proper, in the potty as opposed to the floor. He was saying, quite to the contrary:

“Father, I defecated earlier, as you know, in the plastic potty. Prior to accomplishing this feat, however, I also left a couple of items on the floor, just there, beside your foot. I did this in the most high traffic area of the house in full confidence that you, Mother, or the Dog would find it and clean it up expeditiously. As you yourself have failed to notice and nearly stepped in the mess, I thought I would point it out to you now.”

Which, when you think about it, was pretty nice of the young master.

Not as nice as actually doing the full of the deed in the potty, mind you, but a good effort nonetheless.


  1. Russ Livingston

    This made be chuckle–well done. Too bad you did not have a video camera to record the event, but then again this translation and documentation is very fun and descriptive. You need to save this one for the memory book.

  2. Oh, I’m sure he’ll be very glad to read these things when he’s, say, 17.

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