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Translating Lardner

Ring Lardner's "The Young Immigrunts" (1920) is a very funny parody, ostensibly written by his four-year-old son. In it, the youngster describes his long, arduous drive (in an open car, often through rainstorms) with his parents, from Indiana to their new home in Connecticut. Like most of Lardner's works, the piece is written in colloquial language - full of grammatical errors, misspellings and almost completely devoid of any commas or semicolons. I encourage you to read the original piece at the link above, but in case the colloquial is too daunting, I've taken the liberty of "translating" Chapter 5 ("My Father's Idear") into more standard and modern language. As the scene opens, the family is having breakfast at a hotel in Rochester, preparing for the drive to Syracuse.

My Father's Idea (Chapter 5 of "The Young Immigrunts")
by Ring Lardner

While participating in the lordly viands, my father hauled out his map and looked it up and down.

"Look here," he finally said. "There seems to be a choice of two main roads between here and Syracuse, but one of them goes way up north to Oswego while the other goes way south to Geneva, while Syracuse is straight east from here. So it looks to me that we would save both mileage and time if we would drive straight east through Lyons, the way the railroad goes."

"Well, I don't want to ride on the rails," said my mother with a loud cough.

"Well, you don't have to, because there seems to be a little road that goes straight through," replied my father as he removed a fly's cadaver from his costly farina.

"Well, you'd be better off sticking to the main roads," said my mother, tactlessly.

"Well, you'd be better off minding your own business," replied my father with a pungent glance.

Soon my father paid the check and gave the waiter a lordly bribe, and once more we sprang into the car and were on our way. The less said about my father's great idea, the better. In a word, it turned out to be a holocaust of the first order, as after we covered miles and miles of ribald roads, we suddenly came to an abrupt halt at the side of a stopped freight train that was stone-deaf to honking of the car horn. My father sat for nearly an hour reciting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in an undertone, but finally my mother mustered up her courage and said, affectedly, "Why don't we turn around and go back?" I can't spell what my father replied.

Finally my father decided that Lyons would never come to Mahomet* if we sat out there all winter, so we backed up, turned around, retraced four miles of shell holes and finally reached our destination by way of Detour.

Pulling up in front of a garage, my father beckoned to a dirty mechanic.

"How do we get to Syracuse from here?" asked my father, blushing furiously.

"Go straight south to Geneva, then east to Syracuse," replied the dirty mechanic with a loud cough.

"Isn't there a short cut?" asked my father.

"Go straight south to Geneva, then east to Syracuse," replied the dirty mechanic.

"You see, daddy? We go to Geneva after all," I said, brokenly. Luckily for my piece of mind, my father doesn't believe in corporal punishment, especially in front of Lyons people.

Soon we were on a fine road, and nothing more happened until we pulled into Syracuse at seven that evening. As for the conversation that took place in the car between Lyons and Syracuse, you could put it in a telegram and send it for thirty cents.

(*I have no idea what this phrase means.)

November 18, 2010 in Books | Permalink


I think "the Lyons would never come to Mahomet" is a play on the scene from the life of Mohammad when he ordered a mountain to come to him. When the mountain didn't come, he said, "If the mountain will not come to Mohammad, then Mohammad will go to the mountain" or something along those lines. The story is used as an example of how people should be flexible in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

Posted by: Levi Stahl at Nov 18, 2010 3:39:25 PM

Thanks, Levi - that's a very plausible explanation. I definitely didn't think the Mahomet reference had anything to do with the village in Central Illinois of that same name.

Posted by: Pete at Nov 19, 2010 10:40:39 AM