“The Dursleys are perfectly normal, thank you very much!”: Idioms, immediately

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

What better way to open Potter of Babble than with the opening sentence of the Harry Potter series?

One of my favorite translations of this sentence comes from the Scots translation, which English speakers can read and understand: “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of nummer fower, Privet Loan, were prood tae say that they were gey normal, thank ye verra much.”

It’s so conversational and colloquial! You can just imagine someone sitting next to you and telling you about the Dursleys, and that feeling of familiarity with the storyteller is exactly what you should feel at the beginning of any good, pleasant story.

The original English-language narration strikes a similar tone, and it’s most evident with the phrase “thank you very much.” You may have never thought about it before, but the use of “thank you” in this context is pretty idiomatic and largely unique to English. When the Dursleys say “thank you very much,” they’re not actually thanking anyone for wondering if they’re normal. If anything, they’re offended! They’re saying “thank you very much” with their chins raised and their noses high in the air, showing their polite indignation that anybody would even suggest that they could be anything other than normal. And in fact, the use of “thank you very much” here serves as a very eloquent tool for the storyteller: that the Dursleys would respond “thank you very much” only proves how proud they really are.

So how do other translations deal with this very English-specific expression? Below are six—yes, six!—different strategies translators around the world have used to confront this challenging sentence.

Translator strategy #1: Translate it literally

Because this use of “thank you very much” is so specific to English, only a handful of languages attempt to translate it literally—like the closely related language Scots, as we saw above. Of course, it works with Scots because Scots is mutually intelligible with English and shares a significant overlap of social norms.

Click on the drop down list to see the translations that use this strategy.

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #1 (Click for drop-down list)

Esᴘᴇʀᴀɴᴛᴏ: Gesinjoroj Dursli ĉe numero kvar, Ligustra Vojo, fieris diri, ke ili estas “perfekte normalaj, multan dankon.”

Rᴜssɪᴀɴ (Maria Spivak): Мистер и миссис Дурслей, из дома Но. 4 по Бирючинной улице, гордились тем, что они, спасибо преогромное, люди абсолютно нормальные.

Sᴄᴏᴛs: Mr and Mrs Dursley, of nummer fower, Privet Loan, were prood tae say that they were gey normal, thank ye verra much.

Wᴇʟsʜ: Broliai Mr a Mrs Dursley, rhif pedwar Privet Drive, eu bod nhw’n deulu cwbl normal, diolch yn fawr iawn ichi.

One interesting observation here is that the Esperanto translation uses this strategy. In a future post, I’ll address how the Esperanto translation frequently uses very literal translations and what this might mean for the Esperanto community in terms of language vitality.

Translator strategy #2: Reinterpret “thank you very much”

The largest portion of the translations use “thank you very much” as an expression of relief instead of an expression of indignation. “Thank God we are perfectly normal!” This is a very literal translation that is deceptively similar to the “thank you very much” in the English source text, but it does not express the contempt intended in “thank you very much.”

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #2 (Click for drop-down list)

Aᴢᴇʀʙᴀɪᴊᴀɴɪ: Mister və missis Durslilər Rivet Drayv küçəsində 4 nömrəli evdə yaşayır və həmişə fəxrlə bildirirdilər ki, onlar, şükür Allaha, tamamilə normal insanlardır.

Bᴀsǫᴜᴇ: Dursley jaun-andreek, Privet Driveko 4.ekoek, harro esaten zuten beraiek erabat normalak zirela, zorionez!

Bʀᴇᴛᴏɴ: An aotrog hag an itron Durlsey, a oa o chom en niverenn 4, Privet Drive, ha lorc’h a veze enne o lavarout e oant tud ordinal penn-kil-ha-troad, ho trugarekaat.

Cᴀᴛᴀʟᴀɴ: El senyor i la senyora Dursley, del carrer Privet número quatre, estaven molt orgullosos de poder dir que eren gent perfectamente normal, gràcies a Déu.

Fᴀʀᴏᴇsᴇ: Hjúnini Dursley, maðurin og konan, sum búðu í Privet gøtu nummar 4, vóru errin um at kunna siga, at tey vóru púra vanlig fólk, og takk fyri tað.

Gʀᴇᴇᴋ, Aɴᴄɪᴇɴᴛ: Δούρσλειος καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἐνῷκουν τῇ τετάρτῃ οἰκίᾳ τῇ τῆς τῶν μυρσίνων ὁδοῦ. ἐσεμνύνοντο δέ περὶ ἑαυτοὺς ὡς οὐδὲν διαφέρουσι τῶν ἄλλων ἀνθρώπων, τούτου δ’ἓνεκα χάριν πολλὴν ᾔδεσαν.

Oᴄᴄɪᴛᴀɴ: Sénher e Dauna Dursley qui demoravan au 4, Privet Drive, qu’èran gloriós de’s díser perfèitament normaus, Diu mercés.

Iᴛᴀʟɪᴀɴ: Il signore e la signora Dursley, di Privet Drive numero 4, erano orgogliosi di affermare di essere perfettamente normali, e grazie tante.

Lɪᴛʜᴜᴀɴɪᴀɴ: Ponia ir ponas Dursliai, gyvenantys ketvirtame Ligustrų gatvės name, išdidžiai sakydavo, jog jie, ačiū Dievui, normalių normaliausi žmonės.

Pᴏʟɪsʜ: Państwo Dursleyowie spod numeru czwartego przy Privet Drive mogli z dumą twierdzić, że są całkowicie normalni, chwała Bogu.

Pᴏʀᴛᴜɢᴜᴇsᴇ (Isabel Fraga): Mr. e Mrs. Dursley, que vivem no número quatro de Privet Drive, sempre afirmaram, para quem os quisesse ouvir, ser o mais normale que é possível ser-se, graças a Deus.

Rᴏᴍᴀɴɪᴀɴ (Ioana Iepureanu): Domnul şi doamna Dursley, de pe Aleea Boschetelor, numărul 4, erau foarte mândri că erau complet normali, slavă Domnului!

Rᴏᴍᴀɴɪᴀɴ (Florin Bacin): Domnul şi doamna Dursley, din Aleea Privet numărul patru, erau mândri să poată spune că ei, slavă Domnului, sunt absolut normali.

Rᴜssɪᴀɴ (Igor W. Oranskij): Мистер и миссис Дурсль проживали в доме номер четыре по Тисовой улице и всегда с гордостью заявляли, что они, слава богу, абсолютно нормальные люди.

Tᴜʀᴋɪsʜ (Mustafa Bayındır): Privet Sokaği, Dört Numara’daki Bay ve Bayan Dursley, sağ olsunlar, tamamen normal olduklarını söylemekten gurur duyarlardı.

Tᴜʀᴋɪsʜ (Ülkü Tamer): Privet Drive dört numarada outran Mr ve Mrs Dursley, son derece normal olduklarını söylemekten gurur duyarlardı, sağ olun efendim.

Uᴋʀᴀɪɴɪᴀɴ: Містер і місіс Дурслі, що жили в будинку номер чотири на вуличці Прівіт-драйв, пишалися тим, що були, слава Богу, абсолютно нормальні.

Uᴢʙᴇᴋ (Shokir Dolimov): «Odamovilar» xiyobonidagi 4-uy sohiblari mister va missis Dursllar: «Xudoga beadad shukurlar bo’lsinki, xonadonimizdagi hayot tinch va bir maromda kechmoqda», — deya maqtana olishlari bilan g’ururlanishadi.

If you read any of these languages, you’ll notice that the Dursleys come off very differently in this sentence than in the English sentence. Rather than rigid and uptight, you’re left with an image of a couple that is primarily self-conscious and perhaps a little bit judgmental.

Translator strategy #3: Replace “thank you very much” by expressing emphasis instead

Another popular strategy among translators is to recast the sentence with one that drives home the point that the Dursleys are proud to be normal. An English-language example of such replacement might be something like: “The Dursleys were darn proud to say they’re perfectly normal!”

This is a rather clever workaround that identifies the purpose of “thank you very much” in the English source text and attempts to reproduce its effect natively in the target language.

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #3 (Click for drop-down list)

Fɪɴɴɪsʜ: Likusteritie nelosen herra ja rouva Dursley sanoivat oikein ylpeinä, että he olivat avian tavallisia totta tosiaan.

Fᴀʀsɪ/Pᴇʀsɪᴀɴ (Saeed Kobraiai): آقا و خانم دورسلی ساکن خانه‌ی شماره‌ی چهار خیابان پریوت درایو بودند. خانواده‌ی آن‌ها بسیار معمولی و عادی بود و آن‌ها از این بابت بسیار راضی و خشنود بودند.

Gᴇʀᴍᴀɴ: Mr. und Mrs. Dursley im Ligusterweg Nummer 4 waren stolz darauf, ganz und gar normal zu sein, sehr stolz sogar.

Gʀᴇᴇᴋ, Mᴏᴅᴇʀɴ: Ο κύριος κι η κυρία Ντάρσλι, που έμεναν στον αριθμό 4 της οδού Πριβέτ, έλεγαν συχνά, και πάντα με υπερηφάνεια, πως ήταν απόλυτα φυσιολογικοί άνθρωποι, τίποτα περισσότερο ή λιγότερο.

Hᴀᴡᴀɪɪᴀɴ: Ua ha’aheo ‘o Mr Iāua ‘o Mrs Dursley o Helu ‘Ehā, Ala Pilikino, i ka ha’i aku he po’e ma’amau nō Iāua, mahalo nui loa.

Iᴄᴇʟᴀɴᴅɪᴄ: Dursleyhjónin á Runnaflöt númer fjögur hreyktu sér gjarnan af því að vera sérdeilis og algerlega eðlilegt fólk.

Iʀɪsʜ: Bhí cónaí ar mhuintir Dursley in uimhir a ceathair Privet Drive, agus é le maíomh acu go raibh said an-normálta go deo, agus iad breá sásta de.

Sᴘᴀɴɪsʜ: El señor y la señora Dursley, que vivían en el número 4 de Privet Drive, estaban orgullosos de decir que eran muy normales, afortunadamente.

Yɪᴅᴅɪsʜ: מ״ר און מר״ס דורזלי, פון דער ליגוסטער־גאַס נומער פיר, האָבן שטאָלצירט מיט דעם, וואָס זיי זענער געווען אין גאַנצן נאָר־מאַל – ווי עס באַדאַרף דאָך צו זײַן

Norwegian uses a mixed strategy, translating “thank you” directly but also adding an adverb for emphasis: “Herr og fru Dumling i Hekkveien 4 var heldigvis fullstendig normale, takk.”

Translator strategy #4: Reinterpret what the Dursleys mean by “normal”

In a few translations, the Dursleys’ “thank you” seems to come in response to a question about their happiness and well-being. “How are you doing today, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley?” “Quite normal today, thank you!” The effect of this reinterpretation suggests that the Dursleys are putting on a façade. They want their well-to-do neighbors to think they’re doing fine, but behind closed doors they’re anxious about what problems the Potters will bring them.

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #4 (Click for drop-down list)

Bʀᴀᴢɪʟɪᴀɴ Pᴏʀᴛᴜɢᴜᴇsᴇ: O Sr. e a Sra. Dursley, da rua ados Alfeneiros, no 4, se orgulhavam de dizer que eram perfeitamente normais, muito bem, obrigado.

Cᴢᴇᴄʜ: Pan a paní Dursleyovi z domu číslo čtyři v Zobí ulici vždycky hrdě prohlašovali, že jsou naprosto normální, ano, děkujeme za optání.

Gᴀʟɪᴄɪᴀɴ: O señor e a señora Dursley, do número catro de Privet Drive, gabábanse de ser normais de todo, moitas gracias.

Hᴇʙʀᴇᴡ: אדון וגברת דרסלי, דיירי דרך פריווט מספר ארבע, ידעו לדוות בגאווה שהם נורמליים — ותודה ששאלתם.

Jᴀᴘᴀɴᴇsᴇ: プリベット通り四番地の住人ダーズリー夫妻は、「おかげさまで、私どもはどこからみてもまともな人間です」と言うのが自慢だった

Sʟᴏᴠᴀᴋ: Pán a pani Dursleyovci z Privátnej cesty číslo 4 s potešením o sebe tvrdili, že sú úplne normálni, no d’akujem pekne.

Only a few translations use this strategy. It’s unclear whether it’s an attempt to salvage the phrase “thank you very much” or if they translator misinterpreted the intended meaning of both “normal” and “thank you very much.” It might depend from translator to translator as well.

Translator strategy #5: Remove the phrase entirely.

Some translators identified that “thank you very much” is completely unnecessary in the sentence, and it can be cut if it causes them trouble. Cutting the phrase sidesteps the problem altogether and provides an easy way out for the translator. But the removal does change the tone of the narration—away from one that offers the reader a vantage point from Mr. Dursley’s perspective and towards a more omniscient one.

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #5 (Click for drop-down list)

Bᴜʀᴍᴇsᴇ (Myanmar; Kaung Myat Loon Taw): ပရီဗက်ဒရိက်လမ်း အိမ်အမှတ် (၄) တွင် နေထိုင် ကြ‌သော မစစတာနင့် မစစဒါစခလတို့မာှ သာမန်လူများ ဖြစ်ရခြင်း အတွက် သူတို့ကိုယ်သူတို့ ဂုဏ်ယူတြသည်။

Dᴀɴɪsʜ: Hr. og fru Dursley fra Ligustervænget nummer fire var Ganske stolte over, at de var helt og aldeles normale.

Gʀᴇᴇɴʟᴀɴᴅɪᴄ: Aappariit Dursleykkut Ligustervænget normu 4-meersut tulluusimaarutigaat inuttut nalinginnaalluinnartuunertik.

Hɪɴᴅɪ: प्रिवित ड्राइव के मकान नंबर चार में रहने वाले मिस्टर और मिसेज़ डर्स्ली गर्व से कहते थे हम तो पूरी तरह सामान्य लोग हैं |

Hᴜɴɢᴀʀɪᴀɴ: A Privet Drive 4. szám alatt lakó Dursley úr és neje büszkén állíthatták, hogy köszönik szépen, ők tökéletesen normálisak.

Lᴜxᴇᴍʙᴏᴜʀɢɪsʜ: De Mr an d’Mrs Dursley aus der Kellechholzstroos Nummer véier waren houfreg drop, soen ze kënnen, dass si ganz normal waren.

Mᴀʀᴀᴛʜɪ: प्रिव्हिट ड्राइव्हच्या चार नंबरच्या घरात राहणारे मिस्टर आणि मिसेस डर्स्ली मोठ्या ताठ्यानं सांगायचे की, आम्ही तर बाबा अगदी साधीसरळ माणसं आहोत.

Sᴡᴇᴅɪsʜ: Mr och Mrs Dursley i nummer fyra på Privet Drive var med rätta stolta över att kunna säga att de var helt normala.

Tɪɢʀɪɴʏᴀ (Ahadu Desta’alem): እንዳ ዳርስል፡ ኣብ ጐደና ሓጹራ – ቍጹረ ገዛ ኣርባዕተ ዝቐመጡ ደሓን ዝመነባብሮኦም ስድራቤት’ዮም።

The Dutch and Frisian translations take a unique approach that removes the phrase, but replaces it effectively by disconnecting the clause (“proud to say they were perfectly normal”) from the first sentence and attaching it to the second. This lends focus to their pride in being normal, much in the same way as strategy #3 does. The Arabic translator took a similar approach as well.

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #5b (Click for drop-down list)

Aʀᴀʙɪᴄ: تفجر أسرة (درسلى) التي تقيم في المنزل رقم أربعة بشارع (بريفت درايف) بأنها أسرة طبيعية تمامًا..وهم كذلك فعلاً، لم يكن أحد ليتصور أن تتورط هذه الأسرة في أي أمور غريبة أو غامضة.

Dᴜᴛᴄʜ: In de Ligusterlaan, op nummer 4, woonden meneer en mevrouw Duffeling. Ze waren er trots op dat ze doodnormaal waren en als er ooit mensen waren geweest van wie je zou denken dat ze nooit bij iets vreemds of geheimzinnigs betrokken zouden raken waren zij het wel, want voor dat soort onzin hadden ze geen tijd.

Fʀɪsɪᴀɴ: Yn ‘e Ligusterleane, op nûmer 4, wennen Mûzema en de frou. Se wienen der grutsk op dat se hiel gewoan wienen en as der oait minsken west ha, dêrst fan tinke soest dat se noait by wat heimsinnichs of nuvers belutsen reitsje soenen, wiewol, want datsoarte flauwekul hienen se net oan tiid.

Translator strategy #6: Alternative expressions of indignation

One less common strategy, which I personally prefer, is to replace the “thank you very much” clause with a more native expression of indignation. This ultimately preserves the reader’s impression of the Dursleys as rigid and uptight, keeps the perspective of the narrative in the vantage point of Mr. Dursley, and overall provides a similar experience to the original English sentence.

Sᴛʀᴀᴛᴇɢʏ #6 (Click for drop-down list)

Bᴏsɴɪᴀɴ: Gospodin i gospođa Dursley s broja četiri, Privet Drive, ceste biser-drveta, bili su ponosni što za sebe mogu reći da su savršeno normalni, ako bi se ko i usudio da upita.

Lᴀᴛɪɴ: Dominus et Domina Dursley, qui vivebant in aedibus Gestationis Ligustrorum numero quattuor signatis, non sine superbia dicebant se ratione ordinaria vivendi uti neque se paenitere illius rationis.

Mᴀᴏʀɪ: Whakahī ana a Mita rāua ko Miha Tūhiri, nō te kāinga tuawhā i te Ara o Piriweti, ki te kī he tino māori noa iho nei rāua – kia mōhio mai koe.

So for me, of the dozens of translations listed in this post, only the Bosnian, Latin, and Maori translations truly capture that first sentence in Harry Potter.

Lastly, it should be mentioned that the Thai translation also uses an alternative expression, but one that expresses desperation rather than indignation: นายและนางเดอร์สลีย์เจ้าของบ้านเลขที่สี่ ซอยพรีเว็ต ภาคภูมิใจนักที่จะบอกว่าพวกเขาเป็นคนปกติธรรมดาที่สุด เชื่อเขาเลย! No really! We are normal! We swear! Unlike the other translations of this strategy, however, it alters the reader’s image of the Dursleys much in the same way as strategy #2 above.

So, for me, of the dozens of translations listed in this post, only the Bosnian, Latin, and Maori translations truly capture that first sentence in Harry Potter as the story was originally written. What’s your favorite translation?

This was a little preview for you of how interesting the translation of Harry Potter can be! Leave a comment or a message and let me know what you thought. What did you like and what would you like to see more of in future posts?

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