I rarely do proofreading and revision work and only for my favourite agencies. Because I trust them not to ask me to check shoddy or machine translations. But every now and then, a real humdinger* lands in my mailbox. Like last week. I’ll spare you the details but treat you to a couple of the high points. In a text on how to remove wallpaper: ‘use a humid sponge’ and ‘stab the wallpaper off’. Of course humid can also mean damp (context is everything!) but stabbing off wallpaper? It’s a direct translation of the Dutch word ‘afsteken’.

*Humdinger first appeared in 1883, used to describe something remarkable or unbelievable. It’s generally accepted as being a portmanteau of the words hummer (not the car) and dinger. A hummer was a vivacious woman in 1681 and a big fat porky** in 1699. A dinger had similar meanings but originating in English dialects. From the verb to ding in Yorkshire dialect, meaning to strike, batter or bruise. By extension, a dinger could be anything superlative.

**A porky is a lie. In Cockney rhyming slang: pork pie = lie.

You often see abbreviated sayings. For example: ‘It’s brass monkeys today’. You’re saying it’s cold but what do monkeys have to do with it? The original saying is: it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey! 😊