Telephonic Correction

It all comes out in the wash …

In a couple blog posts recently, I’ve mentioned the Italian mystery book Il telefono senza fili. I’ve translated that title either as The wireless phone or as The mobile phone. I wasn’t consistent, I think, because I wasn’t really happy with either translation. While both translations are possible, and the Italian is literally “The telephone without wires”, they didn’t seem right given the story. A significant plot point in the story involves a cell phone, but the normal ways to refer to a cell phone are cellulare (=cell) or telefonino (=little telephone, where -ino is the other diminutive suffix).

Yesterday as I was looking up mondegreens, I found the answer to my translation mystery. It turns out that telefono senza fili is the Italian name of a kids game where one person whispers a word or phrase to another person, then that person whispers it to the next person, etc. When the last person says out loud what they heard, it is typically very different from what the first person said, since things get garbled in transmission. The common U.S. name for that game is “Telephone.” Since that kind of garbling is also a very prominent part in the mystery, I think a better translation of the title would simply be Telephone. This also keeps the ambiguity of the original Italian title. I didn’t know about the game meaning of telefono senza fili, which is why I got it wrong. You learn something every day, as they say.

When I was a kid, the name I associated with that game was “Washing machine”, which makes no sense, but eventually, I learned to call it “Telephone.” Yesterday, Lee told me that when she was little, they called the game “Whisper Down the Lane.” (BTW, I think Whisper Down the Lane would be a nice title for the English version of the book, except for the fact that it is not the common name for the game.) Now if you imagine whispering “Whisper Down the Lane” and passing that along, I think that could turn into “Washing machine.” So my name for the game could have been the result of playing the game itself!