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I like the movie No Country for Old Men directed by the Coen brothers. That's the reason why I recently read the novel of the same name. As I'm not a native speaker, I chose the book translated in my mother tongue. And one paragraph in this book bothers me.

Some of the old time sheriffs never even wore a gun. A lotta folks find that hard to believe. Jim Scarborough'd never carried one; that's the younger Jim. Gaston Boykins wouldn't wear one up in Comanche County.

The same sentences appear in the movie intro. I watched this move when I was in the US. When I first heard these English sentences in a theater, I understand it as follows:

  • There were more than one sheriff with the name Jim Scarborough. (Maybe a son is named after his father so that they have the same first name.)
  • And the one who had never carried a gun was the younger one.

But the translated version explain this sentence as "Jim Scarborough had never carried a gun when he was young."


I know that this question may not have a definite answer because these sentences do not contain enough information on Jim Scarborough. But which explanation is more plausible?

  • Both those explanations are possible. I think in the context of the film that that the "Jim when he was young" is correct. It is meant to imply he did not carry a gun when he was young, but he does now because times have changed. – Skooba Jan 25 '16 at 14:26
  • Personally my understanding when reading the quote was the same as the OP. To say "that's the younger Jim" rather than "that's when he was younger" seems strange. It also seems odd to say that he "never carried one" and then immediately qualify it to imply he started carrying one in later life. – Paul Johnson Jan 25 '16 at 14:49
  • I think it's likely that there are two Jims (not necessarily two Jim Scarboroughs) and the point is a clarification on which Jim is being referred to. The other points (he carries one now, but didn't when younger) are possible, too. – Samthere Jan 25 '16 at 15:06
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It's rare that we get a chance to provide such a definitive answer here at EL&U... but the translation is WRONG! and your first impression was right

But it's understandable why they made that mistake. The casual, wandering, way of adding to what was just said reflects a way of talking that is very realistic for that character. But it's "colloquial" in form and relies entirely on context, so it's not usage that would appear in an English textbook.

p.s. The way that the character might have expressed the second meaning {"when he was young."} would be more like this: "Jim Scarborough'd never carried one; until he got old." or "Jim Scarborough'd never carried one; at least while he was young."

  • I guess the OP is doing a backtranslation. Oh boy. – Lambie Jan 12 '17 at 0:05
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There apparently were three Jim Scarboroughs; three generations; all sheriffs of Kleberg county. This would lead me to believe that the second Jim was being mentioned. From the book,

The Texas Sheriff: Lord of the County Line by Thad Sitton

...all Kleberg County Sheriffs had the same name--father, son, and grandson--Jim Scarborough.

enter image description here

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    Welcome to ELU. You have the opportunity to make this answer better than the existing answer, which buries its explanation in a linked article. Please don't just link: it wouldn't take much for that to break. Please quote the relevant part explicitly (with appropriate attribution). – Andrew Leach Jan 11 '17 at 23:58
  • @Andrew Leach How do you take text from inside google books? Do you have a secret for that?? – Lambie Jan 12 '17 at 0:04
  • It's actually an image so the only way is to manually copy the relevant parts, or to OCR it. In this case, quoting the author and source along with relevant significant events/dates would probably help the "apparently" in the first line. Images aren't searchable or accessible to screen-reader software, so even if it's simply pasted into the answer, there needs to be some real text. – Andrew Leach Jan 12 '17 at 0:10
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    Thank you to Andrew Leach and Cascabel. That's very helpful! – Liz Jan 12 '17 at 2:07

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