H.G. Wells1 calls Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt2 “one of the greatest novels I have read for a long time”. I do not think Wells has ever believed it possible for his remark to be misunderstood3. Indeed, it is very simple and very clear, and perhaps no Englishman or American would ever think it capable of a meaning other than4 the real one5. But a Chinese learner of English, who reads and writes English carefully enough, has recently told me of his imperfect understanding of that remark. “Why ‘for a long time’?” he said. “I simply cannot6 understand what Wells thinks the greatness of a novel has to do with7 the length of the time he has spent reading it.”
H·G·韦尔斯把辛克莱·刘易斯的Babbitt称作“我在长久以来读过的最伟大的章回小说之一”。我认为韦尔斯不曾想到他的（原）话可能会被人误解。的确，这句话很简单也很明白，也许没有哪个英国人或美国人会想到除了它的真实意思外的其他意思。可是有一个中国的英语学习者，他读英语和写英语都非常仔细，最近告诉我他对那句话不太理解。他说：“为什么说‘for a long time’？我简直不懂韦尔斯认为一本章回小说的伟大跟他在阅读它时花了多少时间有什么关系。”
The learner misunderstood Wells’s remark. As a matter of fact, the critic does not mean to say how much time he has ever devoted to reading any novel. The remark might be paraphrased8 as: “For a long time past9 I have read many novels, some of them being great ones. Babbitt is one of the greatest.”
The learner, being a careful one, doubted whether he was somehow twisting10 Wells’s words. I should fancy11 that he would have eventually got the right meaning even if he had not asked me.
Chinese learners of English often misunderstand or fail to understand a group of simple words put together in a simple way. My advice is to stop to think again12 when you find something unnatural in an expression. That something is perhaps not in the expression itself but in your interpretation of it.
- H. G. Wells 指Herbert George Wells (1866 —1946)，英国文学家
- Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt Sinclair Lewis (1885 —1951)是美国文学家，Babbitt是章回小说
- believed it possible for his remark to be misunderstood 以为他的话有被人误解的可能
- other than ……以外的；非……的
- simply cannot 竟然不能
- what Wells thinks the greatness of a has to do with … Wells 以为一本章回小说的伟大跟……有什么关系
- paraphrased 解释
- for a long time past 在过去的长时期以内
- twisting 曲解
- fancy 认为
- stop to think again 停下来再想