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'Clueless' Translated from Valley Girl to 19th Century English


Jane Austen's Emma was first published on December 23, 1815. Since then, it's seen many iterations, including the Amy Heckerling adaptation Clueless, a cult classic in its own right. In Clueless, Emma, a well-intentioned but insensible matchmaker, becomes the valley girl with a heart of gold, Cher. Harriet, her single friend, becomes Tai, the new girl in high school, and Mr. Knightley becomes Cher's ex-stepbrother Josh. To commemorate Emma and one of our favorite book-to-film retellings, we're matching moments from Clueless to their counterparts in Jane Austen's novel, translating from valley girl to nineteenth century English. Why? Because, as Cher would say, "Duh, it's like a famous quote!"


Clueless Speak: "It is one thing to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties, but it is quite another thing to be fried all day... Loadies generally hang on the grassy knoll over there. Sometimes they come to class and say bonehead things, and we all laugh of course, but no respectable girl actually dates them."

19th Century Translation: "He is very plain, undoubtedly—remarkably plain:—but that is nothing compared with his entire want of gentility. I had no right to expect much, and I did not expect much; but I had no idea that he could be so very clownish, so totally without air. I had imagined him, I confess, a degree or two nearer gentility."

Clueless 2

Clueless Speak: "Cool picture!"

19th Century Translation: "'You have given Miss Smith all that she required,' said he; 'you have made her graceful and easy. She was a beautiful creature when she came to you, but, in my opinion, the attractions you have added are infinitely superior to what she received from nature.'"

Clueless 3

Clueless Speak: "You know, I don't get you, Cher. You flirt with me all year... Tai!? Why would I go with Tai?... Don't you even know who my father is?"

19th Century Translation: "'Never, madam,' cried he, affronted in his turn: 'never, I assure you. I think seriously of Miss Smith!—Miss Smith is a very good sort of girl; and I should be happy to see her respectably settled. I wish her extremely well: and, no doubt, there are men who might not object to—Every body has their level: but as for myself, I am not, I think, quite so much at a loss. I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance, as to be addressing myself to Miss Smith!—No, madam, my visits to Hartfield have been for yourself only; and the encouragement I received—"

Clueless 4

Clueless Speak: "This is a bunch of junk that reminded me of Elton, but I wanna burn it because I am so over him." 

19th Century Translation: "'This was really his,' said Harriet.—'Do not you remember one morning?—no, I dare say you do not. But one morning—I forget exactly the day—but perhaps it was the Tuesday or Wednesday before that evening, he wanted to make a memorandum in his pocket-book; it was about spruce-beer. Mr. Knightley had been telling him something about brewing spruce-beer, and he wanted to put it down; but when he took out his pencil, there was so little lead that he soon cut it all away, and it would not do, so you lent him another, and this was left upon the table as good for nothing. But I kept my eye on it; and, as soon as I dared, caught it up, and never parted with it again from that moment....Yes, simpleton as I was!—but I am quite ashamed of it now, and wish I could forget as easily as I can burn them. It was very wrong of me, you know, to keep any remembrances, after he was married. I knew it was—but had not resolution enough to part with them.'"

Clueless 5

Clueless Speak: "Do you remember that time at the frat when I was totally depressed and he asked me to dance with him and he was really flirty?"

19th Century Translation: "I was thinking of a much more precious circumstance—of Mr. Knightley's coming and asking me to dance, when Mr. Elton would not stand up with me; and when there was no other partner in the room. That was the kind action; that was the noble benevolence and generosity; that was the service which made me begin to feel how superior he was to every other being upon earth."

Clueless 6

Clueless Speak: "I was really bad today. I had two mochaccinos. Now I feel like ralphing."

19th Century Translation: "Emma's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress."

Clueless 7

Clueless Speak: "He's just like this slug who hangs around the house... What am I stressing about? This is, like, Josh! Okay, okay, he's kind of a Baldwin. But what does he want with Tai? She couldn't make him happy. Josh needs someone with imagination, someone to take care of him, someone to laugh at his jokes, in case he ever makes any. Oh my God, I love Josh. I'm majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love with Josh!"

19th Century Translation: "Till now that she was threatened with its loss, Emma had never known how much of her happiness depended on being first with Mr. Knightley, first in interest and affection.—Satisfied that it was so, and feeling it her due, she had enjoyed it without reflection; and only in the dread of being supplanted, found how inexpressibly important it had been. She had herself been first with him for many years past. She had not deserved it; she had often been negligent or perverse, slighting his advice, or even wilfully opposing him, insensible of half his merits, and quarrelling with him because he would not acknowledge her false and insolent estimate of her own."

Clueless 8

Clueless Speak: "Look, I have been in agony the past week, and I can't even believe I went off the way I did... I'm the 'tard here. Cher, you've been nothing but super duper nice to me... Oh Cher, I'm really sorry."  

19th Century Translation: "Harriet was a little distressed—did look a little foolish at first: but having once owned that she had been presumptuous and silly, and self-deceived, before, her pain and confusion seemed to die away with the words, and leave her without a care for the past, and with the fullest exultation in the present and future."

Clueless 9

And now, we're outtie. If you can't get enough, check out As If! An Oral History of 'Clueless' as told by Amy Heckerling, the Cast, and the Crew by Jen Chaney and our celebration of Emma's 200th anniversary with her top 5 observations


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