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In this diary excerpt, Alan Rickman wrote: "Emma [Watson]’s diction is this side of Albania at times." I understand the general meaning of the idiom (What is the meaning of the phrase "this side of x"? And how do I use it?), but why Albania??

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    This isn't a standard phrase, and it's not very obvious what he means. One guess would be that "this side of Albania" means the near side of Albania, i.e. the portion nearer the UK (like the near side of the moon), so slightly closer to English than the average Albanian but still bad.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 24, 2022 at 17:55
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    The reference appears to be to what Rickman felt was inadequate direction of the young actors in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In context, saying that "Emma's diction is this side of Albania at times" amounts to saying that she was delivering her lines in a manner that rendered them almost as incomprehensible as if she were speaking Albanian. I assume that he chose Albanian because it is a language that relatively few people speak and that seems obscure to most non-Albanians.
    – Sven Yargs
    Sep 24, 2022 at 21:46
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    Albanian is not exactly a well-known language. And besides, how would he know?? He should have used another term. It's just snotty.
    – Lambie
    Sep 24, 2022 at 22:08
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    While unfriendly to the actress and the language, it is humorous, and Albanian is an usual language in Europe, and notably distant from English. Similar to the comment Greek to me. Sep 25, 2022 at 0:33
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    I suspect it's someone using an idiom without understanding it. It would be perfectly intelligible to say that her diction was the strangest you'll find this side of Albania, but that got mangled.
    – Mary
    Jan 29, 2023 at 1:31

1 Answer 1

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My answer starts by noting a parallel between "this side of Albania" and "this side of Paradise"

The latter phrase was used by Rupert Brooke in his poem Tiare Tahiti. He starts by outlining Paradise:

Poetry Foundation
"Tiare Tahiti"
... there waits a land
Hard for us to understand.
Out of time, beyond the sun,
All are one in Paradise

...

Later in the poem he outlines circumstances still pleasant but more real and not quite so paradisical:

... With lips that fade, and human laughter
And faces individual,
Well this side of Paradise!
....

This literary device puts the reader not quite at Paradise, but in a place close to it and a little nearer to everyday reality.

Similarly, Rickman, whom we should imagine as a sensitive and literate actor, declares that Emma Watson's diction, although not quite as incomprehensible to English ears as Albanian, is still a long way from the desired standard.

You ask why Albanian? To the educated British travelling east through Europe, languages such as French, German, Italian are all familiar to various extents, whether from education, reading or holiday travel. It is not until we get to Albania (east of Italy) that we encounter a language so unfamiliar to most of us that it is a suitable reference point for near-total incomprehensibility.

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    For much of the twentieth century Albania was isolated from the rest of the world, which led to its being generally unknown to most people outside its borders. It is that general unfamiliarity, rather than just the unfamiliarity with the language, that led to its name, until a few decades ago, often having been used as a stand-in for a strange, peculiar place. For a typical person living outside Albania, it was not that when 'we get to Albania' we encounter something unfamiliar, but that there was no way to get to Albania at all.
    – jsw29
    Jan 28, 2023 at 23:56
  • @jsw29 your comment is most relevant and usefully complementary. Thank you.
    – Anton
    Jan 29, 2023 at 8:33
  • Yes, Albania has long been a stand-in for a strange incomprehensible place at least in the UK. There are many reasons: its language (although no stranger than e.g. Hungarian, it's less well-known than Greek or the Slavic languages), funny-sounding names like King Zog, Muslim religion, and for a while extreme Marxism, as well as its comparative poverty, and today it is hated by rightwingers in the UK who blame it for being full of criminals all trying to get in to the UK.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 30, 2023 at 9:51

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