27 June 2019

"Free Alcohol" in Wales

Father H with an excellent observation on translating. Actually, Google Translate doesn't do a bad job. The 'dictionary method'? In German, 'I don't know' is  'Ich weiß nicht'. The 'dictionary method' renders 'I white not'!

From Fr Hunwicke's Mutual Enrichment

I do not despise people who happen not to know some particular language. There are enough languages I don't know to keep me fairly humble! Even if the language is Latin ... it's not your fault if you were not taught Latin in the general education system. Even if you are a cleric, it's not your fault if the mitred lawbreakers who supervised your seminary cheerfully took the view that "There's too much on the syllabus to find time for Latin! Forget Canon 249! Forget S John XXIII!! Forget Vatican II!!!"

But there are people whom I ... not so much despise as find arrogant and enormously stupid. They are the people who think that they can translate from X into English, or even from English into X, when they know not word of X, simply by looking in a dictionary or using a mechanical 'translator'.

Sadly, languages are not as simple as that!

In the Treasury of Westminster Cathedral, there is (or was; could somebody check?) a cope of Cardinal Manning's, accompanied by a "translation" into English of his motto.


This is Latin for "I prefer to die rather than to be disgraced". Foedari is the passive present infinitive of FOEDO, a verb meaning 'I disgrace'.

Apparently, some arrogant ignoramus looked in a dictionary (or a Google Translation machine?) and found a word Foedus, meaning 'an agreement'. So he rendered the motto "I would rather die than compromise"!!! (Believe me, there is no way Foedus could be inflected so that it offered a form Foedari.)

An Asda supermarket in Wales recently needed to put up a bilingual sign indicating that the supermarket was "Alcohol Free". So a fool with the "I've-got-a-dictionary" mentality put up "ALCOHOL AM DDIM". This actually means, in Welsh, "FREE ALCOHOL"! Or so I have been told. Because I don't know Welsh. 

The fact that you don't know a language doesn't mean that you are entitled to treat it with disdainful contempt.

A language embodies the precious life and culture, over many centuries, of a human community. It is entitled to respect.

Whether it's Latin or Welsh, Mandarin or Hottentot, either respect it enough to learn it or keep your mucky hands off it!

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