I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!


I am no linguist. I am familiar with French and have translated books for my own use. I am conversant with Latin and several other archaic languages. But I am no Jackson Crawford by any stretch of the imagination.

This makes it very strange that I am fascinated by translations. Especially modern translations of words that were not use during the time. One is the word “tattoo” that was not created until the eighteenth century and is one of only a few words in English descended from a Polynesian word.

Another is plague, which descends from Latin.

Plague today has a specific meaning. At least in popular thought. It references to the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death, The Great Dying. Actually the term was not born until the fourteenth century. The Online Etymology Web page gives this source:

late 14c., plage, "affliction, calamity, evil, scourge, severe trouble or vexation;" early 15c., "malignant disease," from Old French plage (14c., Modern French plaie), from Late Latin plaga "affliction; slaughter, destruction," used in Vulgate for "pestilence," from Latin plaga "stroke, wound," probably from root of plangere "to strike, lament (by beating the breast)," from or cognate with Greek (Doric) plaga "blow" (from PIE root *plak- (2) "to strike").

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the year 664 tell us:

Her sunne aþeostrode, & Earkenbriht Cantwara cing forðferde, & Colman mid his geferum for to his cyþþe. & þy ilcan geare wæs mycel mancwealm, & Ceadda & Wilferð wæron gehadode, & þy ilcan geare Deusdedit forðferde.

which is translated as:

This year the sun was eclipsed, on the eleventh of May; and Erkenbert, King of Kent, having died, Egbert his son succeeded to the kingdom. Colman with his companions this year returned to his own country. This same year there was a great plague in the island Britain, in which died Bishop Tuda, who was buried at Wayleigh—Chad and Wilferth were consecrated—And Archbishop Deus-dedit died.

The term “mancwealm” or “man-cwalm” depending on the transliteration) may be translated as “plague,” but we have already noted that it does not since that definition was not known at the time. Rather, Christopher Grein in his Handy Anglo-Saxon Dictionary define it as “destruction” or “death,” which is similar to Plague but not the only definition. And certainly not will be in the casual reader’s mind when it is read!

How many modern translations are similar? This is an example of why the translation should not be accepted by the reader without further research. For many years, I have had a habit to place the untranslated text next to the translated, and that will give a good idea of how faithful the translation is! That is something I recommend to anyone dealing with a translated text!

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